Waiting for my tour to the US Capitol, I visited the beautiful Library of Congress. Actually, the library consists of 3 buildings and the one most visited by tourists is the Jefferson building. It is very pretty inside and they also have different exhibits well worth the visit!!

Free tours provided, though no guarantee you'll hear the tour guide. I was under the impression I would need my passport, but no such thing was asked this time around.

They have an excellent website, where you can find all the info you need.

https://www.loc.gov/

https://www.loc.gov/visit/


Some pictures here to tempt you...

I only had time to visit one of the exhibits - Pre-colonised America. Very much worth the visit!

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Amerikanska kongressens säte. Enorm byggnad, som ärligt talat ser större och mer respektinjagande ut på utsidan än inuti.

Home of the American Congress. An enormous building, situated in the area Capitol Hill, which looks a lot bigger on the outside than it feels when you are actually in there.

It is beautiful on the outside, but if you are only interested in beautiful rooms, I would rather see the Library of Congress, which is much more beautiful and interesting on the inside and doesn't require tours and planning.

What is the US Capitol?

In the US, you have a Legislative branch - that's the Congress - deciding on budgets and rules.

You have the Executive branch - the President and his/her cabinet - executing the rules.

And then you have the Judicial branch - the Courts - making laws.


The Congress is divided in two chambers, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. The Capitol is the working place of the Congress. The Senate in the North Wing. The House of Representatives in the South Wing.

TOUR

To see the US Capitol, you must join a tour. This can be pre-booked on their excellent web site. https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/

There are also same day tickets, you can go there and hope for the best. Security is tight, as you may well imagine, pay close attention to the list of things you may not bring inside. The list makes sense except for the ban on food and drink. They actually check your bags for food and drinks and you may be denied entry. If you don't think you will survive without food, there is an excellent restaurant in the building and prices are good.

I booked myself a tour, which in low season still had to be done a few days ahead. I also visited the north and the south wings, ie the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively. The tour itself was so-so, even though the building is beautiful and our guide, 'Mr Neumann', was a funny and knowledgeable young man - could not have asked for better! However, seeing senators debate was what made my day. I am not very interested in political debates, but seeing it live was something else - almost like going to a concert!

Everything starts at the visitors' center, a few hundred meters further off the main building, in kind of a bunker. Upon entry, there are a lot of signs all over the place, but thankfully, there are also many helpful personnel who can point you in the right direction if and when you get confused. Basically the theme north-south has been applied to everything. At this stage, you go to the north desk if you have pre-booked your tour, and to the south desk if you have no booking.

The tour starts with a 13 minute long movie with a brief history of the how and why of the congress. I liked the film, actually found it quite sensible - calling the system 'an experiment'. According to the film, the 13 states, wanting to free themselves from Britain, worked hard to come up with a political system that would suit all 13, and give all equal rights. They came up with 'the Great Compromise' and the motto 'E Pluribus Unum', 'Out of many, one'. As a sign of their intentions of building a new, united, nation, they designed the Capitol and built the new city of Washington. And while the American Revolutionary war was reigning, George Washington ordered the dome of the capitol to be built, as a sign that they were not going to surrender. I beautiful little story, I think :)

It's a bit sad that this beautiful motto was later changed to 'in God we trust'... giving up the idea of the hopes, strengths and struggles of human beings for religious abstractions. Talk about losing your way - in my opinion any way.

The tour starts with a 13 minute long movie with a brief history of the how and why of the congress. I liked the film, actually found it quite sensible - calling the system 'an experiment'. According to the film, the 13 states, wanting to free themselves from Britain, worked hard to come up with a political system that would suit all 13, and give all equal rights. They came up with 'the Great Compromise' and the motto 'E Pluribus Unum', 'Out of many, one'. As a sign of their intentions of building a new, united, nation, they designed the Capitol and built the new city of Washington. And while the American Revolutionary war was reigning, George Washington ordered the dome of the capitol to be built, as a sign that they were not going to surrender. I beautiful little story, I think :)

It's a bit sad that this beautiful motto was later changed to 'in God we trust'... giving up the idea of the hopes, strengths and struggles of human beings for religious abstractions. Talk about losing your way - in my opinion any way.

The interesting parts for me started after the tour: Our guide explained to us how we could get passes to the Senate and House of Representatives. For my part, as an international visitor, I had to go to a desk behind the north desk, to get the pass for the Senate, then go (I ran) to the south side of the huge entrance hall, to a desk behind the south desk, to get a pass for the House of Representatives.

Since visitors are allowed no electronics in the chambers I had to leave my stuff at the south locker room before proceeding to the House of Representatives. And when I went over to the Senate, they actually sent me all the way back downstairs to get my stuff again and put them in the north locker room, which was the next door. Don't ask me why. I would have thought that having the pass and having my stuff securely stuffed away with a badge clearly showing where would suffice. Not so.

The Senate was wonderful. We actually got a pamphlet explaining the history and details of the room. A Senator was explaining her views on the Obama Care, and when she was done Bernie Sanders added a few words. Then a Republican explained his views on the proposed Republican budget... and so on. Funny thing was that the room was quite empty. The senators were watching the 'debates' remotely, which I think is great from a security perspective. It looked funny though :)

The work of the House of Representatives did not look very professional. People were all over the place. To vote, they had to get up and get themselves to the voting buttons, which created a chaos. They were also discussing (? -looked more like a mingle party) loudly and even when the meeting president was knocking with his hammer, asking for order, no one would listen. But I guess if you have to get up from your seat to vote all the time, after a while you don't give a damn anymore... Note that these were my quick tourist observations. I'm sure it makes sense to them :)


Wanna see more on the work of the Senate or the congress? It is streamed online on C-span.gov!!

So in short, I do recommend to visit to the Capitol if you are interested to see the senators in action. Otherwise, I'd rather go to to Library of Congress!

Since I wasn't allowed to take any pictures of the chambers. Here are some more pics from the old parts of the Capitol.

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Some general information about the US. This is just to give you a heads up. If you are interested in any of the topics, search for more information, don't just trust what I'm writing here.

Safety and Security

Americans take safety and security much more seriously than we do in Sweden and it's not a joking matter.

To gain entrance to certain buildings in DC, you will need your passport. There may also be lists of what you may not bring with you in.

Weather, storms etcetera are also serious, something we are not used to. Take warnings seriously. Things happen here that we don't dream of in Sweden. The first time I was here, it seemed there were squirrels falling from trees. The second time, there was an infestation of bugs.

This is only something I've heard, but if you want to be allowed to board your flight back home, don't be sick.

Medicines and Foods

We are *very* protected in Sweden. Medicines here are stronger and may not be allowed in Sweden over counter.

Wash fruits and vegetables properly.

I am used to drinking Ramlösa and Loka back home and had some trouble finding that sort of thing here. Coffee is not as strong as back home. Starbucks has taken over the market entirely around here, so get used to it.

Electricity

You probably already know this, but the power outlets here are not like the Swedish ones and you will need a converter. I brought 2 kinds.

Also, they use a lower voltage here in the US, 120 Volts. That means that your electronic appliances will need to be able to adjust to the lower voltage. And if you buy anything electronic from here, make sure it can cope with the 220 V of Sweden.

Money and Prices

In my previous trips to the US, I always found the prices to be far less than in Sweden, but this time, no. Prices are about the same or more.

TAX: The prices you see are not the final price. Tax will be added. How much is the tax? That differs from state to state. In Washington it seems to be around 6%. Google 'Sales Tax'.

TIP: In Sweden we don't want 'tip' to be an argument for low salary. However, in the US, sometimes tip IS counted as part of the salary so we should try not to forget - 10 to 20 % is the rate. Whenever you get personal service of some kind.

Traffic

Well, US is made for drivers and if you live here you can't do without a car or two. However, Washington DC has an excellent metro system and I hear driving and finding parking are complicated.

Roads and streets are bigger. There are more lanes than in Sweden, and parking is usually free. There are a lot of text on the signs and right turn seems generally to be allowed, even on red - which I love! It makes a lot of sense when driving!

Jay walking is an offense. Speed limits are photo enforced, at least the lower speeds.

Out here in Maryland, a car is a necessity. There are no pavements, distances are far. Malls and shops are scattered. And buses go very scarcely, if at all.

I didn't drive while in Washington, but I was on a 3 week road trip in the South West- it was no problem at all! Just remember that 'car pool' means more than one passenger in the car.

Time

Being here over New Year, it was clear to me just how large this country is. At midnight, they celebrated new year in New York - Eastern Time. At 1 am (Washington DC time), they celebrated New Year in New Orleans - Central Time. And at 2 am Washington DC time there was a 3rd celebration according, broadcasted from Hawaii - Western time.

Time is counted with am, pm. So our 18:00 is 06:00 here, pm.

Getting back home, you might find yourself badly jetlagged. There are some tips to get over that more easily.

My flight attendant friend says not to take a nap the first day back but go straight back to sleeping at night as per new time zone.

Plan your sleep and getting back. Don't drink caffein before sleep time, stay in the light on arrival and darkness at night. Change back your clock immediately. Keep hydrated. Excercise, but not close to nap time.

Internet and Phone

Visiting in 2016, I find all malls and cafés etcetera have had fee wifi. Joy :)

However, I still found it useful to buy a sim card. I asked around at 'Radio Shack' as well as at 'Best Buy'. Finally I stopped by T-Mobile shop and got a traveller's card, which is valid for 21 days, includes a certain amount of call, message, as well as 2GB data. Price, ca 300kr. It was better than the offer I had from my Swedish providers 3 and Tele2.

I'm really happy with my choice. However, pushed messages and ads seem to be commonplace here. When I go to a mall, the mall map is sent to my phone. And sometime I get ads to my phone. This is something we don't have in Sweden.

​Hi, how are you doing 

American greet each other by with 'how are you'. I've heard Swedes say that 'Americans are not genuine', not honest, because of this. However, to me, the American 'how are you' just means hello. Also, it is not strange to greet people on the street here, we are a bit more reserved in Sweden. 

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Dame Marjorie Merriweather Post was a rich heiress, who became richer during her lifetime, by running the businesses correctly as well as by making good marriages. Four husbands (6-16 years each marriage) and 4 estates, of which beautiful Hillwood is now a museum, on her own demand.

I always like to make a visit here when I'm in the area and did not like it less in the Winter time.

I take the free tour of the estate, visit the current exhibitions, the pet cemetery and the gardens - my favorite being the Japanese garden!

To get here, I would recommend having a car, it's a long walk from the nearest public transport.

Only thing I find negative here is the café. I do not recommend it. The more cafés I visit here in the US, the more I long for Europe... Jeez, how hard can it be to get good coffee or find an inviting bakery. Anyway, we couldn't get a coffee inside, because it was more like a restaurant even though they called it Café, but had to go to their Express bar outside. The food didn't look at all inviting to me, and for tea they gave us cold water with a tea bag. Which we returned, of course. But I had looked forward to a 'real' cafe and was very disappointed.

Below, some pictures from my last visit. It's a little bit of the mansion and its Christmas decorations. Then some pictures of the beautiful Christmas trees. Then some pictures of the current exhibitions which was Japan Deco as well as Four Seasons. The last row of pictures are of the gardens.

Needless to say, there is a lot more to see. So if you can, Marjorie's Washington home is well worth a visit. So skip the coffee but do visit Hillwood. Hillwood has an excellent website with all information: http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org


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A few words on the toilet culture here. No matter where I've been in the US, toilets have been provided, clean and free of charge. Simple, logical. You need to go, you go, and no one has to pee in a corner.

But there are some other differences as well.

At least here in the greater Washington area, seat covers seem to always be provided. No instructions anywhere, but I think this is how it is supposed to be used.

Also, all the public toilets I've been to, have this wierd shape where the front piece is missing... And I can't figure out who came up with this idea or what it is supposed to be good for. I won't go into detail on why I *don't* think this is a good idea.

Thirdly, (was I counting?), they don't put out toilet brushes here. The cleaners clean, not the users. I haven't decided how I feel about that yet.

Oh, one last thing: all the public toilet doors so far have had these wierd openings on the side... So you can kind of see people peeing in there ... Not cool man, not cool!

Ah, well. At least they are free, and clean and available.

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I'm a bit outside of the Metro line and not having a car is a major disadvantage, which places me outside of Pokemon hunting range. However, it's still been a good visit from a Pokemon Go perspective! Of course, Taurus are all over the place here. I would say about the same amount as Drowzee in Stockholm. I found one on my first day here yooohooo :)

And today, I got a Tangela!! NOT expected. And I'm not exactly Pokemoning here. I just turn the game on like once per day and take a 15 minute walk....

Lots of the usual virmin: Pidgeys, Spearow, Rattata etc

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Coming in this season I had hoped to see the American Christmas celebrations I know from TV, but I have to say it's pretty quiet here. I haven't seen much at all of the lights and colors one sees on TV, but I managed these at least :)

Oh, and the weather? It was so warm today I had to take my jacket off and sit outside in a thin blouse! I've been through colder Summer days in Stockholm! (People tell me to not jinx the weather though, it *can* get cold. However, how can I take that seriously when they find +5 degrees centigrade cold?) 

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So. Christmas. And I find myself on an unplanned trip to the USA, Washington DC. I am here visiting family so I won't post many tourist pictures, but I think I can get some good, general info about travelling out here.


Being born in Iran, I am since early this year no longer allowed to travel on ESTA (online quick visa). Same goes for anyone who's visited Iran over the past 5 years. Read more here:

https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/visa-waiver-program.html


Process of getting a regular tourist VISA wasn't too painful, and all available online, except for the interview. However, make sure to have the interview during summer and bring a snack - they'll keep you queuing outside for a couple of hours at the American Embassy in Stockholm. And only those with appointment are allowed in. Anyway, the VISA is good for 10 years so that's good.

https://se.usembassy.gov/visas/

https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html

Tip #1: if you have to visit the American Embassy in Stockholm, do it in the Summer.

So, what's up recently? Any new terror attacks? Nothing that concerns airports, to my knowledge, so I was surprised to see the hardened security all over the place. At transit, there were extra interviews and checks and there were extra queues at the destination airport. An ESTA would have saved me a lot of time at destination, as ESTA holders didn't have to wait in line... but what's a girl to do. Hopefully we are safer this way. However, I learned one thing...

Tip #2: If you have brought a snack for the air trip, make sure to finish it all up and throw away any leftovers before getting to the airport. After all the queuing, I was forced into yet another line, since I had leftover apple and the agricultural people needed to take a look.

A few notes on how to get a cab from the airport to town would've been good, but I had a ride so again I cannot give any tourist information at this point. I hear it's easy to get shuttle everywhere though.

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