From the BlogSubscribe Now

The White House Tour

Approximately 2000 people visit the White House daily. Last month, I was one of them. I’d been thinking about visiting for a while but kept putting it off because I thought it would be difficult to get in, and I’d have to get up really early.  Turns out it was pretty straight forward. I mentioned it to one of my aunts who lives in the area and she did the rest. 

Once the date was confirmed, we received a welcome note with instructions and a list of prohibited and allowable items.

Welcome to the White House

The White House is the official residence of the president of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in NW Washington, DC. The residence was designed by James Hoban and built between 1792 and 1800.

White House from Pennsylvania Ave

The White House from Pennsylvania Ave

John Adams, the second president of the US was its first resident. He moved to the White House in November 1800 but didn’t live there long as he was defeated by Thomas Jefferson who took up residence in 1801.

View from the Ground Floor

View from the Ground Floor

Prior to 1811, the White House was known as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion or President’s House.

Here are the highlights of the self-guided tour.

The Library 

White House Peek at the Library

A peek inside the White House Library

On the ground floor, I drooled over a sumptuous display of presidential china, some dating back 200 years. There’s also the White House Library which has over 2700 books on American life. We weren’t allowed in but the door was open, so I snapped this photo. 

The Grand Staircase connects the main floor to the first or State floor, where the Green Room, Red Room and Blue Room as well as the State Dining Room are located. In addition to the Ground and State Floors, there are the Second and Third Floors and basement, which takes up two floors.

The Green Room

The Green Room

The Green Room

Thomas Jefferson hosted dinners in the Green Room which has been a parlor since James Madison’s presidency. You’ll see John and Abigail Adams’ silver coffee urn and James and Dolly Madison’s French candlesticks. The American furniture was made 1800-1815.  

The Blue Room

The Blue Room

The Blue Room

Oval in size, the Blue Room is used as a reception room. President James Monroe furnished the room in the French style in 1817. Original objects include gilded chairs, sofa and the clock on the mantel. Grover Cleveland, the only president to have a White House wedding, married Frances Folsom in 1886 in the Blue Room.

The Red Room

The Red Room

The Red Room

First ladies receive their guests in the Red Room, which has been used as a parlor since the early 19th century. The Red Room is also where President Rutherford Hayes took the oath of office in 1877. The American Empire style furniture was made in New York, 1810-1830. The marble mantle has been in the White House since 1819.

The State Dining Room

State Dining Room

State Dining Room

The White House hosts official dinners in the State Dining Room. As many as 140 can be seated in this room. The presidents and their families use the smaller dining room.

View of the North

View of the North Entrance

White House exteri

As this is a self-guided tour, you can go at your own pace. It took us about 2 hours to complete. National Park Service employees, posted in each room, are available to answer questions.

White House Tour Essentials

Admission to the White House is free. US citizens must contact their Member of Congress to request a tour, non citizens must contact their embassy in Washington, DC.
Tours are available Monday to Saturday, except on public holidays.
US citizens can use their driver’s license, military ID, or passport. Foreign nationals can also use their passports to get in.

The White House is very strict on what you cannot take in. No bags of any kind are allowed, including handbags, purses, book bags and backpacks. Also, no video cameras, tablets, iPads, camera sticks, strollers and diaper bags. You can, however, take a compact camera or camera phone for still photography only. Texting or talking is not allowed.

The most convenient way to get to the White House is by subway. Take the red, orange or blue line to Metro Center, the blue or orange line to Federal Triangle, or McPherson Square. There is also paid parking nearby. 

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations

 

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
Also linking with Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Malaysian Meanders,  Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.
 

 

Oxford, City of Dreaming Spires

Oxford, in my mind, is probably as equally well-known as a university town as it is for the television series about the fictional detective, the opera-loving, often morose, Inspector Morse. 

Despite its strong connections to Oxford and the university – Colin Dexter, the author of the novels that the series is based on, worked at the University of Oxford for more than twenty years – Morse, a brilliant and perceptive detective, surprisingly did not receive a degree from any of the city’s famous schools.

I don’t remember much about Oxford from my only visit in the early 1970s but watching the series, which was filmed around the city and the university, made me long to return and do a proper tour.

I found a free 2-hour walking tour with Footprints Tours  (If you have a good time, leave us a tip. If not, it was nice to meet you! their website declares) and met the group at Oxford City Center – an easy, 15 minute walk from the train station.

I was late joining the tour and was surprised to hear the guide’s American accent. It felt disorienting to be on a tour of Oxford, England and hear the accent I left in New York. That’s not to take anything away from the guide, who was very enthusiastic, or the tour, which was chock full of history, insider information, and not one boring moment.

Oxford – a short back story

Oxford started humbly, very humbly in AD900 as a river crossing. The name comes from the Old English words (ox/ford) which mean a place (ford) for oxen (ox) to cross. Today, it is a city of approximately 160,000 and home to the University of Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. The university has been around since at least the 12th century, its earliest colleges – there are 30 of them in all – since the 13th century. 

A Few Places to See

The Sheldonian Theatre: Located on Broad Street, The Sheldonian got its name from Gilbert Sheldon, a chancellor at the University of Oxford. The theatre was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral among other notable buildings). Construction started in 1664 and continued until 1669. The Sheldonian is used for lectures, concerts and graduations. 

Oxford The Sheldonian Emperor

The Sheldonian ‘Emperor’

Thirteen heads, called herms, or termains, philosophers and emperors, each wearing a different beard greet visitors to the Broad Street entrance to the Sheldonian. It’s unclear what they mean or why there are thirteen of them.

Oxford, Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera: Built between 1737 and 1748, the Radcliffe Camera (Latin for vaulted room or chamber) is a science library. The library got its name from John Radcliffe, a medical doctor who left the funds for its construction. 

Oxford Hertford Bridge

Hertford Bridge

The Hertford Bridge over New College Lane connects Hertford College’s administrative offices and its students’ accommodations. A popular landmark, it is referred to as the Bridge of Sighs. Just past the bridge, on the left, is the entrance to the alley to Turf Tavern.

Christ Church College: Known officially as The Dean, Chapter and Students of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry the Eighth, Christ Church is the only academic institution that is also a cathedral. Part of the University of Oxford, Christ Church is the alma mater of politicians, including several British prime ministers, scientists, philosophers, academics and entertainers. 

“Find us if you can, and you’ll be back.”

Turf Tavern: Walk down St. Helens Passage, a narrow alley off Hertford Bridge, and you’ll arrive at The Turf Tavern, an Oxford institution that has been around in one form or another since the 13th century. Once a malt house, a cider house in 1775 and an inn, The Spotted Cow in 1790, it became the Turf Tavern in 1847.

Among the well-known who have passed through its doors – I hope none of them bumped their heads on the low beam near the bar – are Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Oscar Wilde, Ben Kingsley, and Richard Burton. 

The Bear Inn: Dating to 1242, the Bear Inn is the oldest pub in Oxford. It is also well know for its collection of ties from the early 1900s. You can find it on the corner of Alfred and Blue Boar Streets.

I could have spent an entire day walking around Oxford and probably not see the same thing twice. It is a beautiful city with spectacular buildings from all of England’s architectural styles. 

Oxford Travel Essentials

Oxford is accessible by train from London’s Paddington Station, and by coach from Victoria, Marble Arch, Notting Hill Gate, Shepherd’s Bush.  

 

Linking this week to Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travellers Sandbox, Ruth at Tanama Tales, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations.

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
 

5 Great Winter Destinations

Have you recently found yourself researching flights to great winter destinations? Well, if you’re looking for a place to head for vacation this winter and haven’t yet settled on where, there are plenty of great options offering everything from snowy peaks to sand beaches. If you can’t quite make-up your mind on what best suits you, here are 5 great winter destinations that are bound to impress.

Iceland

Iceland

For those willing to head deeper into the winter dark, the North Atlantic country of Iceland has some wonderful natural wonders to offer, including the world-famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a number of breathtaking volcanoes, the stunning Gulfoss waterfall, as well as Thingvellir National Park, which was once home to Viking Althing, the parliament which was first held here in 930 AD.

Greece

Greece is home to a number of important historical sites, including the Athenian Acropolis, which houses such buildings as the Parthenon, as well as the Delphi Archaeological Site, which sits on the slopes of the beautiful Mount Parnassus and holds the temple of Apollo. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, then consider heading to one of the Greek islands, where you’ll be able to enjoy life as the locals do outside of the booming tourist season.

Italy

There is never a bad time to visit Italy, and as this country attracts millions of tourists a year, heading here in the off-season will not only make your travels cheaper, but it will also cut down on queues for many of the major sites, such as the Duomo and Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and tours of the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome. Venice is also a wonderful city to visit in the winter, as the canals and narrow walkways create a whole new misty atmosphere in the cold weather.

Croatia

Croatia might be best known for its beautiful Dalmatian coast, and while there is still plenty of things to do and see along the coastline and in cities like Dubrovnik, in the northeast of the country, just outside the capital of Dubrovnik, you’ll find the wonderful Mount Sljeme, a ski resort which features offerings for all levels, from beginner to expert. If you’re stuck halfway between a winter-sports vacation and a trip to the coast, then Croatia might be the place for you.

Phuket, Thailand

Thailand

There are few countries that can match the type of winter weather that you’ll find in Thailand, where this season actually provides the country with its most comfortable and enjoyable climate. With some of the  world’s best beaches, extremely kind locals, delicious food, and luxurious resorts and hotels, if you’re looking to trade-in the cold and dark of winter for a traditional beach getaway, there is no better place to head.

Wherever you decide to go for your upcoming winter break, be sure to plan in advance to ensure you get all the best deals possible.

Images by Moyan Brenn and Jeff Gunn used under the Creative Commons license. 

Stonehenge, Repackaged

Stonehenge was a bit of a disappointment when I saw it in 2011 and for several days after, I tried to figure out why.

One thought was that Stonehenge could not compare to the inflated images I had in my head – images that had been shaped by television, stories I had read and my own very fertile imagination.

Another was that my mind was still fresh from seeing the Eiffel Tower a few days earlier. Unlike Stonehenge, I hadn’t longed to see it or created personal myths around it. It was a blank slate, and when I finally saw it up close, its size left me speechless – and that’s not easy.

The Eiffel Tower soared over the city of Paris like the centerpiece on a spread of buildings against which I could make a quick, visual comparison. I could appreciate its towering scale.

Except for a line of trees in the distance, there is no structure near Stonehenge that I could compare it to, and the flat, open plain that surrounds it makes its 50-ton stones, which are nearly 30 feet high, seem stunted.

The entrance to the monument was unremarkable. My only memory of it was seeing a drawing depicting how Stonehenge would have looked when it was intact.

The Repackaging of Stonehenge

Since my last visit, Stonehenge has had a long overdue overhaul (from some articles I read, it was nearly 30 years in the making).

A handsome new £27,000,000 ($41,000,000) Visitor Center, which echoes the design of Stonehenge’s iconic trilithons, now greets visitors. It houses a ticket office, exhibition space displaying more than 250 artifacts found at the site, a gift shop, gallery, café and restroom facilities.

Since most people never get to see Stonehenge from inside the circle, there is an audio-visual presentation that simulates the view during the summer and winter solstices. During my visit in August, there was an exhibition of postcards, guidebooks and photographs chronicling the different ways that we have experienced and interpreted Stonehenge over the years.

A recreated Neolithic village of thatched cottages occupies a prominent space just outside the Visitor Center. Appropriately, there’s a gigantic sarsen stone that visitors are invited to try to pull. Even though the stone sits atop logs – experts’ best theory of how the builders of Stonehenge moved those massive stones – it was still difficult to move it.

Stonehenge sarsen stone

Larsen stone – Think you can move this?

Stonehenge moving the sarsen stone

Not as easy as it looks

To provide access to the now roped-off stone circle, a trolley service ferries visitors the mile and a half trip from the Visitor Center. The monument is also wheel-chair accessible.

Rounding out the repackaging of Stonehenge, is a larger parking lot that can accommodate cars and tour buses. A minor road that ran through the site has also been closed.

These improvements make Stonehenge the first class facility it always should have been. However, I was shocked by the crass commercialization that it has embraced. To me, mead and curd fit better into the milieu they’ve created than Stonehenge water, shortbread or cheap-looking Made in China baubles.

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales and, Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations 

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
Also linking to Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Rhonda at Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Traveller, Safari24, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders.