WHAT A DAY WE HAD!!!
On our sixth day into D.C. we had a reservation for a White House tour. White House tours had been suspended for the last year or so, but we were able to get a tour reservation on the very first day they were opened back up to the public.
But wait! I'm getting ahead of myself...
We started our day very early and headed out the door by 6:30 A.M. We took the Metro into the city, and got there much before we thought we would. It was just before 9:00 when we got off the subway at the White House. Our tour wasn't scheduled until 10:30, so we had some time to kill.
Just a couple of blocks away was the Old Post Office Tower, which is a free panoramic view of the entire D.C. area once you climb up to the tippy-top. So we walked to the Old Post Office Tower, climbed up to the top, saw the entire city from all four vantage points, saw the Congressional Bells that ring only by command of Congress, then climbed back down and walked to the White House a few blocks away. Along the way, we passed by the National Boy Scout monument. Since we have four Eagle Scouts in our family, we just had to stop for a picture. We thought we still had plenty of time to spare.
Our reservation paperwork said to arrive 15 minutes early (which would have been 10:15 for the 10:30 tour) in order to clear security. We found where we were supposed to be and still had 20-25 minutes extra. Plenty of time, right?
That was NOT a 15-minute line! The lines to tour the White House were clear down the White House lawn, circled around the Sherman Statue, out the gates of the lawn, and down the street! When we realized we were in the back of the line with people who were there for the 11:00 tour, we got the attention of a park ranger to ask if we could jump ahead in the line so we wouldn't be late for our tour. (Even though it was still early enough, we knew that the line would take longer than the 15 minutes they told us!) However, the park ranger held his hands up in the air and told us in no uncertain terms that NO ONE would be allowed to jump ahead in the line. Sigh.
So we finally got to the front of the line after waiting who-knows-how-long, then cleared many levels of security. As soon as we got cleared, the guards pushed us up ahead of the rest of the crowd. We entered the corridor inside the White House door...
They shut the doors in front of us and weren't allowed to enter the main hallway. We weren't allowed to advance! We were the first ones in the corridor, and eventually the room filled up with other people. Finally after several more minutes, the guard let us advance into the next hallway where we saw the Library, the China Room, and the Vermeil Room.
Once again, we were detained. We were crammed into this hallway shoulder-to-shoulder, but the stairwell was blocked by guards. One guard told us that the tour group ahead of us (which is the group we were SUPPOSED to be with) was taking longer than expected, so we just had to wait.
Finally we were allowed up the stairs and into the East Room. This is a very large and ornate multi-purpose room filled with chairs for events that take place there.
But once again we were detained. We were again crammed into the room like sardines, but this time instead of being detained only a few minutes, this time we were there for AN ENTIRE HOUR! And here's the ultimate irony: a room full of chairs, and we weren't allowed to sit down. Sigh.
We were allowed out of the East Room, and we self-paced through the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, and the State Dining Room. While I was admiring the State Dining Room, the kids went up ahead and got to meet the "First Dogs" of the White House, Sonny and Bo.
We exited through the Cross Halls and Entrance (worthy of experience themselves!) and out to the front portico of the White House where we were finally allowed to take pictures.
NOW HERE'S THE KICKER...
The reason we were detained for so long (our 45-minute tour ended up taking over 2 hours) is because JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR while we were waiting for an hour in the East Room, President Obama and Mrs. Obama were welcoming tourists in person.
Yes, that's right. The tour group that we were SUPPOSED to be with met the POTUS and First Lady while we suffered sardine-like on our feet for over an hour. Mr. Obama stayed for a half-hour, and Mrs. Obama stayed for an additional half hour: exactly the amount of time we were confined to the East Room.
Oh well. Such is life. So close, and yet so far.
I really enjoyed the tour of the White House, at least the part that we saw of it. The famous Oval Office and West Wing are off-limits to tourists, as well as a few other areas, so we were very limited in what we could see. Nonetheless, we saw many impressive historical artifacts dating back to the late 1700's and early 1800's, original official portraits of the past presidents, gorgeous interior decorating, and let's not forget about the First Dogs!
Once we were completely finished, we walked out of the secured area of the First Family's residence and out to the street where we took some postcard-perfect pictures of the south lawn of the "People's House".
Then we went to McDonald's for lunch.
After lunch, we had planned to take in a few of the minor museums to fill time until we got back onto the subway. Along the way, we passed the beautiful Eisenhower Executive Building, the American Red Cross headquarters, and the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) headquarters.
Then we started to cut across the greenbelt that extended out from the south lawn of the White House, when what did we spy? Marine One! That's right! The President's helicopter flew directly over our heads! (And so close it blew the leaves off the trees, and they swirled around us in a tornado-like whirlwind!) And then we watched as Marine One landed right on the south lawn straight in front of us!
We hovered around the area for a little while, then President Obama himself came out of the White House and boarded the helicopter. I didn't personally see it (because I had taken the younger boys to the ranger station to get their White House Junior Ranger badge instead of waiting for the POTUS to board), but the boys said they saw him as he walked to the helicopter.
Then Marine One took off, again right over our heads and a stone's throw away. As he flew overhead, the younger boys and I waved to the POTUS. Had the windows not been tinted, I'm sure we could have made out his face considering how close the helicopter was to us.
So that's our exciting tale of our day at the White House! It was really a privilege to not only tour the inside of the Executive Mansion, but also to be among the first visitors after the tour suspension. And while we didn't actually get to meet the elusive Chief Executive, we sure have a great story to tell!
(Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that all day long we saw "Occupiers" protesting and marching on Washington. They completely freaked us out, as they were wearing these creepy theater masks and dressed in rags. It was a good teaching opportunity, and that's all I'll say 'bout that!)
As our sons mused when reflecting on our exciting day: "We went to his house, we pet his dogs, we gave him a proper send-off as he left on his helicopter. We're practically best friends!"