Whenever I need a surefire way to impress an out-of-town visitor, I head to D.C.’s Massachusetts Avenue for a stroll along Embassy Row. The fascinating architecture makes for lovely eye candy, plus, it’s a great glimpse of global culture in our nation’s capital. Most of the year the sites serve uninformed passersby merely as stand-offish spectacles to gape at from the sidewalk. But in May, the diplomatic community props open its doors for the two-week-long Passport DC. This year, 60 embassies (and the European Commission Delegation) are participating, from Angola to Venezuela, as well as 24 cultural institutions.
Passport DC kicked off last weekend and will last through May 17, culminating with an Around the World Open House—showcasing authentic culture at 24 embassies from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas—and the National Asian Heritage Festival. In the middle, the International Children’s Festival takes place Saturday, May 10, with tyke-friendly activities showcasing 16 countries, from Lebanon to Brazil. Best of all, the majority of the events and open houses are free of charge (yes, Europe can still be affordable!), though the ticketed events present intriguing offerings (Czech bagpiping, French cinema) and generally draw more intimate crowds.
As the Washington Post oh-so-diplomatically points out, we suggest using this opportunity to discover some of the lesser-traveled countries on this free ’round-the-world "trip," or perhaps as a means for picking your next overseas adventure. Listen to the famous Slovenian violinist Anja Bukovec at the Kennedy Center this Sunday (check out the current issue of Traveler for some photographic inspiration). Peruse Latvia’s landscapes in a photographic exhibition. Admire contemporary art from Uruguay, and view dazzling gold jewelry from Kazakhstan.
Traveler’s assistant art director Stefan took a two-hour afternoon primer on the European Union last weekend at the EU Open House: immersing himself in the Danish concept of "hygge"—the country’s singular ethos—on a tour of the modernist Royal Danish Embassy’s ambassadorial residence; noshing on Cyprus halloumi cheese; and best of all, sipping Romanian wine ("which was delicious—who knew?" adds Stefan).
For smoother embassy-hopping, heed Stefan’s advice: Trek up to the embassies in less-prime spots geographically, like the Czech Republic
and Hungary, for the best rewards (read: more food, perhaps as bait?).
If you must see the popular embassies clustered near Dupont Circle (Greece, Ireland, Portugal), beat the crowds by getting an early start. And lastly, Stefan suggests ending your embassy tour with Sweden, which has a "wonderful view of the Potomac" and is perfectly positioned for an after-tour aperitif in Georgetown.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Photo: M.V. Jantzen