Friday, January 25, 2013

My visit to The United States Capitol...

When we arrived in Washington DC, all I (we) had planned was to get a view of the U.S. Capitol building from the outside.  As by the time we had our visa approved, it was too late to make an appointment for an inside visit (so I thought). By sheer luck, we met an elderly couple at the National Mall. I was over the moon when the man (husband) told us we could go inside. It is the Capitol Visitor Center. However, we would need to make an appointment. 'It can be done online' was what the man said. He was so kind, too kind. On the spot, he used his phone to check out the website for us. (Click here)  We had no idea that only a day's notice was required. We could not thank them enough.
We did as stated on the website. It did not take long for us to book the appointment. The reply/confirmation was almost immediate. As required, we had the confirmation email printed out and brought it along the next day. We had to throw away our water bottle and food. Food and water, they are strictly not allowed inside the U.S. Capitol Building. There were security/guards at the entrance of the Visitor Center. Once we passed them and entered into the building, there is a security check for sharp items, etc. We had our bags scanned (through a machine) something like at the airport. The only difference was we did not have to take off our shoes. After the security check, we were on our own. There was no one around to guide us further. I would say this…the staff were not that friendly. 
The information desk to get the visitor pass
We stood around not knowing what to do. Lingered for a while and then decided to walk through the door out of the security area. Husband decided to follow his instinct and walked down the stairs leading down to the Emancipation Hall. There were quite a number of people downstairs. There was already a line of visitors queuing. We hastened to the information desk (picture above) and asked about our appointment. It was already past our scheduled time. Yes, it was the right place. The man and woman sitting at the desk were extremely polite and helpful. After looking at our confirmation paper, the man gave us two stickers to paste on our clothing--the tour pass. He then lead us to the place where we were to queue then told us we had about 15 minutes before the tour start. 
King Kamehameha I (1758?-1812)
Sakakawea (1788?-1812)
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
The Statue of Freedom-
The original plaster model for the bronze Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome
John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr. (1931-1982)
The tour started with a short movie on the history of the U.S. Capitol. (No photography inside the theatre.) We had a female guide who took us around and explained each section as we moved along. We were allowed to take photographs as we followed the guide. We had no complaints but I felt the guide could have spoken slower and given us some time to take more pictures. She moved too briskly from one chamber to the next. A few of us were still clicking away only to discover the group had moved.
Picture above and below-The Old Supreme Court Chamber (1810-1860)
The Old Supreme Court  Chamber (1810-1860)
View of the Ceiling
 as we walked out of the Old Supreme Court Chamber
The Crypt
The Crypt is located on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol. There are more details on the web. I think the web gives a better explanation than yours truly.  One of the sites I visited was Explore the Capitol Hill to read up more before our visit. The guide who took us around informed that she would give us ample time for picture taking. (I thought she behaved agitated seeing everyone 'clicking' away). Hence, everyone behaved and obediently listened each time she talked and followed each time she walked.
The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered.
The Old Senate Chamber
The Old Senate Chamber
Hubby took only two photographs, as the guide told us she would allocate us time for picture taking after her explanation.  She said the same thing when we were at the Old Senate Chamber. Therefore, hubby stopped and listened. In fact, many of us in the group stopped. After each section, the guide would lead and we followed. After the Rotunda, it was all the way down and back to the Emancipation Hall. It was 'a journey of no return'. Seriously, we could not go back and take pictures of the Rotunda, the Crypt, and etcetera. I was so disappointed with the guide. This is quite a good link to get an inside view of the U.S. Capitol and the Rotunda.
The U.S. Capitol Dome-skylight view
The Senate and House Galleries are also open to visitors. We visited the House of Representatives as it was in session. (Both galleries are open to visitors whenever either body is in session.) To enter the gallery, we had to go through a coat check (security) where cameras, hand phones and backpacks are kept by the security. Then, a number tag is issued for later claim of the items.   I could never imagine that I would be sitting in the House of Representatives of the United States. It was a short session but it was a good experience. 
*
Entrance to the Capitol Visitor Center
The wonderful thing about the whole visit to the U.S.Capitol was not just 'being able to get inside'. Another plus thing...Entrance is free. Makes me wonder why our tour agencies back home do not organise tours for this visit. **The Galleries are not included in the tour of the U.S. Capitol.  Passes are required. They may be obtained at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level for international visitors like us (non-US citizens).*Pictures of The Capitol at night. Click
:o)

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