Once a year in Washington, DC, lucky residents get the opportunity to travel around the world without leaving the district borders. There are some 170 embassies and consulates located in the city, and Cultural Tourism DC‘s Around The World Embassy Tour optimizes this position by offering an event that is unique to the city. This year, there were 53 participating countries opening their doors (or booths) to the public. It’s a smorgasbord that this travel addict could not resist and luckily the stars aligned that I was finally able to go.
The key for having a successful day is to map out a route ahead of time and be prepared to get there early and wait. The University of the District of Columbia’s student union hosted booths featuring six countries, so we decided to start there. Each place offered something different: people at the Zimbabwe booth were selling frankincense, Rwanda had free coffee, Kosovo was celebrating 10 years as a country, and Madagascar–a country not even officially participating in the event–must have decided to set up a table at the last minute.
Not far from the UDC campus was a string of actual embassies that were opening their doors. Malaysia was the most impressive we saw, with several stalls selling food and drinks, various displays inside, and a cultural program in the main ballroom. Bahrain had some interactive displays and activities, but the security checkpoint and the fact that everything was outside of the actual embassy building was probably not worth the wait. We skipped China because that line was four times longer, though everyone who had been said it was definitely worth it.
The next group of embassies was closer to Dupont Circle, so we boarded a city bus to near the Taft bridge and hit up the Gabon embassy, which was directly across the street from my first apartment when I moved to DC in 2001. I’d always wanted to go there, and this was the perfect opportunity. This was my favorite stop. Because it was a bit off the main path and a lesser known country, there weren’t as many people there and the ambassador was so excited to welcome people and talk a little about his country. They also had a buffet line of all local cuisine–for free! One of the dishes had cassava leaves and chocolate, there was rice, chicken, fish, and vegetables. It was delicious and perfectly timed.
Continuing along we got in a line at the Guinean embassy and ended up meeting a Francophone man who turned out to be President Alpha Condé. Down the street, we joined the yard party at Costa Rica and had a shot of rum and a bottle of rainforest water, and sampled some delicious appetizers at Albania while we saw tantalizing tourist brochures displayed. We had wanted to go to the Peru embassy, since we were about to go there for real in July, but were waylaid on the way because we passed the Uzbekistan embassy and I just couldn’t bypass my former host country from the Peace Corps days. While they didn’t have any food, the architecture and artwork were impressive, but I was disappointed (and somewhat relieved) that I didn’t get a chance to brush up on my Uzbek skills. It was getting close to 4, when the Tour was scheduled to end, so we rushed down the street, passing by a raucous party outside of the Trinidad & Tobago embassy and got to the Peruvian embassy just after they took away the free pisco sour table. At least we were able to walk through and see the art exhibit while they took down the decorations. Outside was a gelato vendor dishing up tropical flavors. It was no pisco sour, but I’ll take gelato any day.
The best part of this event was the coincidental juxtaposition of the various countries’ embassies next to each other and the random offerings each one had. Just like in reality, you never know what you are going to experience when traveling, so it really did provide that taste of travel that I had been craving. It is also a reflection of the cultural diversity that is probably my favorite thing about living in Washington. Countries like Albania and Gabon have been bumped up on my must-see list now. Next year, I’ll look forward to mapping out a different route. But next week is the European Union Open House, so I’ll have a chance to do it all again, Euro-style.
Here is the list of countries/embassies that we visited, in order:
- Kosovo (all of the above were at the UDC student center lobby)
- Costa Rica