Wednesday Postcard: U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC

This week’s postcard features the inner dome and canopy over the Rotunda in the United States Capitol in Washington, DC.

Photo by Architect of the Capitol

View from the Capitol Reflecting Pool (March 2008)

Dome Restoration Project (September 2015)

The Dome Restoration Project began in 2013 and was completed in November 2016, at a cost of $59.5 million.

View of the Canadian Embassy & U.S. Capitol from Newseum terrace (May 2017)

When I went to DC in 1998, I went to the White House Visitor Center, waited in line, and picked up a timed tour pass for the White House the following day! After 9/11, however, tours had to be arranged through a member of Congress.

In September 2015, my mom and I took a trip to Washington, DC. I recall writing to my congressperson weeks in advance to request tour passes for both the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to tour the “People’s House” as it was fully booked for the days my mom and I would be in DC. The good news was that we got a tour reservation for the Capitol!

Capitol Tour reservation confirmation

The bad news was that the weather proved to be too draining; we were exhausted before we even got to the Capitol! While we knew it would be warm, we didn’t think that it would be hot and humid with 90° temperatures!

We decided to skip the 45-minute walking tour. Instead, we went to the visitor center and the gift shop (where I got the postcard above)!

We were thankful for the Capitol’s air-conditioned cafeteria, where we sought refuge from the swelter, as well as a quick lunch.

I read the heat advisory while sitting in the cool cafeteria!

U.S. Capitol attack

On January 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed and vandalized the U.S. Capitol to protest the 2020 election results. The protest turned into a riot that killed five people, including a police officer.

Inauguration Site

Two weeks later, on January 20, 2021, the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was held on the west facing side of the U.S. Capitol.

With the exception of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration (which was held at the White House in 1945), the inauguration ceremonies were held on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol until 1977.

For more information, visit National Park Service – United States Capitol.

Over the years, I have accumulated about two hundred postcards from around the world, which I’ve either purchased from my local antique shops or received from thoughtful jet-setting family and friends who know I collect them. When I travel, I also like to send myself a carte postale just for fun!

I hope these postcards will make you want to revisit a favorite vacation spot or to embark on a journey to the destination of your dreams (when it’s safe to do so, of course!)

And if you’ve been to the destination featured, tell me about your experience there – I’d love to hear from you.

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, stay well!

Wednesday Postcard: Presidio of San Francisco, California

Photo: A. Taggart-Barone

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands as a backdrop to the Main Post in the heart of the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Presidio is where San Francisco began.

  • The indigenous Ohlone/Costanoan people lived in this area for thousands of years
  • In 1776, Spain established a military fort on this land
  • In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and controlled the post and established a new pueblo nearby called Yerba Buena (later known as San Francisco)
  • In 1846, the Presidio became a U.S. Army post
  • In 1994, the Presidio became a national park site

For more information:

Main Post at the Presidio

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, stay safe. A bientôt!

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in reading about my experience volunteering at the Presidio.

Wednesday Postcard: Point Reyes, California

Photo by E. Cooper

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the Point Reyes Lighthouse and National Seashore, which is located about 30 miles/ 48 km north of San Francisco, California.

Construction of the Point Reyes Lighthouse began in France in 1867. Its lenses were designed in 1823 by physicist, Augustin-Jean Fresnel.

a 375 millimeter Fresnel lens

Considered to be the windiest place on the Pacific Coast, Point Reyes is also foggiest from July through early September.

Coastal dunes at Point Reyes Headlands

On the postcard above, notice how no one’s around the lighthouse.

It’s making me nostalgic for more social times like when my family and I went there during Labor Day weekend in September 2017 and it looked like this:

September 2017

For more information:

Fresnel lenses – U.S. Lighthouse Society

Point Reyes – National Park Service

Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt. Take care and stay safe!

Tales from the Presidio of San Francisco

Baker Beach

For three and a half weeks in the summer of 1996, I worked at the Presidio of San Francisco on an international volunteer project. Along with the National Park Service and CIEE (Council on International Education and Exchange), I hosted 11 participants from Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

This was my second workcamp (a commonly used term for volunteer projects like this one), but it was my first one as a Group Leader. I wanted to spend my summer doing something meaningful, while giving back to the community. I wanted to meet new friends from around the globe. I wanted to show them my city! I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to understand the big wide world out there. Gather ’round the campfire and sing kumbaya, everybody!

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

My group and I loved the idea that we could learn from each other through this cultural exchange and volunteer project.

We envisioned that at the end of it, we’d return to our respective homes, individually satisfied that our collective effort helped beautify parts of the historic Presidio. Our mission of serving as goodwill ambassadors accomplished!

But seriously…

As we all know, the vision sometimes does not match the reality.

The truth is: the workcamp was a vacation! You could say it was more camp than work! It provided over three weeks of freedom from the monotony of our student or professional lives at home.

While we did work hard, we mostly hated the meaningless work we were assigned to do (Replace tennis court nets? Inventory appliances in former housing units? Assemble metal shelves?)

assembling metal shelves

clearing brush outside a small museum

Home Life

We stayed in one of the former barracks and each of us had our own room. We took turns preparing meals and cleaning our shared living areas.

On the weekends, we enjoyed some fun activities. We rode Muni buses across town and strolled through Golden Gate Park. We camped out at the World War II-era Battery Chamberlin and took swigs from a shared bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey. We slept in our sleeping bags on cots in eerie D-Block prison cells on Alcatraz and watched Half Dome take on an orange hue as the sun went down in Yosemite!

Alcatraz Island

Yosemite National Park

One of our meals with another volunteer group

Reflecting on my group leader experience

While I was confident in my flexibility and my high tolerance for challenging situations, I must admit that I was stepping out of my comfort zone when I accepted the Group Leader role.

During the workcamp, my people-skills got sharper. As a leader, I had to be more sensitive to what people were thinking and feeling. Cultural differences also inform body language, which I found challenging to decode at times. For example, standing close to someone’s face may be perceived as either aggression or friendliness depending on one’s cultural background.

Unlike the workcamp I had participated in the summer before — where there were two co-leaders who worked cooperatively — I felt there was no such support at this workcamp.

Since I didn’t have a co-leader, I had to motivate myself, emotionally pat myself on the back, and support my decisions. That part was tough.

This workcamp experience really pushed me to discover my limits, too. My patience was tested — to my surprise — by the park ranger assigned to oversee our project.

What an insufferable bully! He often withheld information from me. When I wasn’t around, he would share information with the group. Of course, that made me look and feel foolish. I felt undermined. Not one to get confrontational, I just ignored it.

Well, today (over 20 years later!) I reflect and decide that I should not have ignored it. I recognize it was a missed opportunity to work out different working styles and navigate personality clashes. Sometimes people just don’t click despite their best efforts and that’s OK, too. After all, we just needed to get along. We didn’t have to like each other.

You live, you learn

I remember a popular song at the time was “You Learn” by Alanis Morissette. How her lyrics ring true: you live, you learn!

Let’s just say I learned the hard way that a local person does not necessarily make the best tour guide.

Either that or my new friends just asked all the hard-hitting questions, like “Why is it called Dolores Park?” or “How much is one of those Victorian houses?” (Fun fact: one of the “Painted Ladies” on Steiner Street was on the market recently for 2.75 million dollars!)

I was, however, able to:

  • share my firsthand account of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (Terrifying shaking for 10 seconds that felt endless)
  • point out Galileo High School, which was O.J. Simpson’s alma mater (It’s in the Russian Hill neighborhood)
  • coach my new friends (who wanted to sound more local) to say “San FrIncisco” but never San Fran, or worse, Frisco! (cringe!)

Still, there were many things about “The City” that I didn’t know.

It didn’t help when the park ranger told me one time:

“You don’t get out much, do you?”

Did I mention he made the disparaging remark in front of our group? Oh, that Jim – such a charmer!

But you know what? He was absolutely correct.

Say what?

That’s right. I choose to look beyond the snark and distill the sweet advice instead: Do more exploring closer to home! Play tourist or traveler in your hometown! Look inside yourself!

  • Only then can you begin to understand the big wide world out there.
  • Where are they now?

    Over the years, seven of us from the Presidio workcamp have managed to keep in touch. We have traveled to each other’s hometowns and a few of them have returned to San Francisco for a visit. For the workcamp’s 20th anniversary in 2016, I set up a Skype call and we had a virtual reunion.

    A sort of kumbaya for the digital age, wouldn’t you agree?

    If you have participated in a similar work project or cultural exchange (paid or volunteer), what did you learn from your experience(s)? Please share in the comments below!

    If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my post >> Volunteering in Hérisson, France

    Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.

    To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)

    *Today is Palindrome Day: 02/02/2020!*

    It’s also Super Bowl Sunday: Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers! 🏈

    Wednesday Postcard: Lille, Maine, USA

    Bonjour! I got this week’s carte postale from a local used-book shop. I had heard of cities in France and Belgium named Lille, but I didn’t know there was one in the state of Maine in the United States!

    There are fewer than 500 people who reside in this town by the St. John River, which I’m presuming is the image depicted here. Across the river is New Brunswick, Canada!

    Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt!

    For more information: