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: National Zoo in Washington, DC

Mei Xiang and Tai Shan (photo: J. Cohen)

This week’s carte postale comes from Washington, DC. I bought this postcard during my visit to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in 2008.

Giant pandas are a vulnerable species. Since 1972, scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have studied their behavior, health, and reproduction.

In 2000, a pair of giant pandas from China, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) were brought to the National Zoo in Washington as ambassadors of conservation.

In July 2005, their cub, Tai Shan (tie-SHON) was the first surviving giant panda cub to be born at the National Zoo. Since 2010, he has been living at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China.

Tai Shan has a new sibling: Mei Xiang and Tian Tian welcomed their fourth surviving cub in August 2020!

For more information:

Smithsonian’s National Zoo 

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, stay healthy and safe!

Extra! Extra! Visit the Newseum Before It Closes

With seven levels, 15 galleries and 15 theaters, the Newseum is considered one of the world’s most interactive museums – it’s a news museum!

The mission of the Newseum, located in Washington, D.C., is “to increase the public’s understanding of the importance of a free press and the First Amendment” (Newseum.org).

Sadly, the Newseum announced earlier this year that it would be closing on December 31, 2019, due to financial challenges.

Back in 2008, I had planned my vacation around the spring opening of the Newseum at its new home on Pennsylvania Avenue (it was moving from Arlington, Virginia). Well, it turned out I got the dates mixed up! I went to D.C. during the last week of March, but the Newseum wasn’t scheduled to open until April 11, 2008!

March 2008

I didn’t really feel like smiling here (March 2008)

It was a huge letdown for me, but I finally got the chance to visit the Newseum in May 2017 – it did not disappoint!

May 2017

I spent about two hours inside and saw many fascinating exhibits, such as:

Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress

You can see the Capitol from the Hank Greenspun Terrace

9/11 Gallery

The good news is that this closure could be temporary. They’re looking for a new home, so maybe they will re-open one day in another location!

In the meantime, if you’re in the area, be sure to go to the Newseum before it closes on December 31, 2019. It’s a must-see attraction in Washington, D.C.!

For more information:

The Bill of Rights – Amendment I (National Archives)

National Archives (March 2008)

Newseum – Hours, Admission, Printable Visitors Guides in 9 languages, and more

Find many U.S. cities’ newspapers in the Newseum’s popular exhibit: Today’s Front Pages

Have you been to the Newseum? Tell me about your visit in the comments below!

You’re Not Too Old to Stay in a Youth Hostel

3 Ducks Hostel in Paris (Photo taken in 1995)

I feel fortunate and deeply grateful for having had several opportunities to travel solo when I was in my 20s. Back then, I wanted to grow, but I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone. I was adventurous, restless, and eager to meet people from around the world. But I was also budget-conscious. Where did I find like-minded individuals? At youth hostels, of course!

Accommodations were nothing fancy: a bunk bed, a shared bathroom, and maybe a kitchen. There was always noise and people milling about. It wasn’t the place to be if you wanted your beauty rest. But it didn’t matter. It was all about the experience!

I loved the shutters and large windows at 3 Ducks Hostel in Paris

While planning an upcoming trip, one of the travel websites I visited suggested staying in a hostel. I didn’t wax nostalgic, though. My knee-jerk reaction instead was: “I’m too old for hostels!”

What can I say? I’m in my forties now (I turn 46 this month) and I prefer to slip into my comfort zone of silent moments, more space, and a slower pace. Less allegro, more andante.

I guess I just feel like… I wouldn’t fit in anymore with the younger travelers: bright-eyed, curious, carefree, and full of wanderlust and boundless energy!

Seriously, though. Am I too old to stay in a youth hostel?

No, of course not! Many hostels have even dropped “youth” from “youth hostel” in order to attract travelers both young and young-at-heart.

Although hostels can set a minimum age requirement, like age 16, there is no age cap, as far as I know!

I stayed here in 1998. This photo is from 2015.

If you are flexible, don’t mind noise, can do some light cooking, and are OK with the idea of sharing (a communal bathroom and a dorm room with 3 or more people), then hostels may be a good option for you!

Need a place to stay while visiting Paris? Washington, DC? Montréal? Consider staying in these three hostels:

3 Ducks Hostel in Paris

Washington International Student Center

Auberge Alternative du Vieux-Montréal

What I gather from the reviews and photo galleries on these three hostels’ respective websites is that they have only gotten better over the years: new and improved rooms, bathrooms, furniture, lockers, dining areas, and more!

I like what I see… Who knows? I may just book a hostel for my upcoming trip after all and give it another go! Still so much to experience out there…

In the 90s, I did a brief stint at this SF hostel as an information desk volunteer

Tell me in the comments: When you travel, what type of accommodations do you prefer, and why?

Macaron in My Carry-On

Ask any Francophile what their pet peeve is and I’m willing to bet that they’d tell you it’s hearing people pronounce the word macaron as macaroon. Ugh, my ears! Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear macaroon, I think of the toasted coconut confection!

A macaron, on the other hand, is the popular French cookie sandwich. Available in a variety of flavors and a rainbow of colors, the two-bite dessert, with its rich and creamy filling in between, has to be the world’s most photogenic sweet treat!

Thanks to social media, they seem to be everywhere! At the same time, though, I fear its ubiquity is making the fancy macaron lose its cachet. Let’s hope not!

macarons from Miette

When given the option, I always choose chocolate. But when it comes to macarons, I prefer plain and no-frills vanilla – go figure! What can I say? I’m a simple girl.

I’m a simple girl – with expensive taste! After all, macarons aren’t cheap since most places charge about $3 apiece. But considering how labor intensive macaron-making is, I think it’s well worth the price.

That said, it is possible to get macarons that look and taste good without paying a premium. For around five bucks, you can get a box of a dozen frozen macarons from Trader Joe’s! Most of the time, they hit the spot and satisfy my craving for something sweet.

from “Trader Jacques”

But sometimes I crave the full in-store experience. I love hearing the soft crinkle of the dry wax bakery tissue and feeling the glass beneath my finger tip as I point to the macarons I want through the display case. The pleasure of taking my treats home in a cute tote bag is like no other!

Here are my impressions of four macaron shops I’ve been to: Chantal Guillon, Ladurée, Miette, and Paris Baguette.

Chantal Guillon

Locations: Palo Alto and San Francisco

I liked the clean interior of the Chantal Guillon Palo Alto store. Their signature macaron is salted caramel brushed with gold. But as the saying goes, “tout ce qui brille n’est pas or” (all that glitters isn’t gold)…

Ladurée

Locations: Los Angeles; Paris; Washington, DC (and more)

cherry blossom and Napoleon boxes

For an exceptional customer experience, you must go to Ladurée. In my experience, the employees provide treatment you’d expect from similar high-end establishments (respect, attention, personal connection) but without the pretentious or stuffy attitude. They are friendly, helpful, and appear to genuinely love what they do! And I haven’t even begun talking about their macarons! (They’re delicious!)

When I visited Washington, DC, they had just opened a shop in Georgetown, so I had to stop by! I got a Cherry Blossom box (unique to DC!) and had it filled with two vanilla, and one each of lily of the valley, lavender, caramel, and pistachio. I got another small green box (called the Napoleon) and had it filled with two citron, and one each of poivre de Sichouan, café, rose petal, and cherry blossom.

you get a postcard with your purchase

While the macarons at The Grove did not disappoint, I was kinda bummed they were out of Ladurée LA-themed postcards!

at The Grove in Los Angeles

In addition to their shops in central Paris, there are several Ladurée shops throughout the airport. Thank goodness for that! In my mind, a trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the legendary Ladurée! I was able to pick up some vanilla macarons minutes before boarding my flight home.

from CDG airport: macaron for my carry-on

Miette

Locations: Oakland and San Francisco

vanilla is my favorite macaron flavor

I’ll just say it now: Miette is my favorite place to get macarons. They’re consistently good. Their tiny, unassuming shop is located in Oakland’s Jack London Square. But make no mistake. That’s where the magic happens. They make a whole bunch of macarons in their Oakland kitchen, then send some of them across the Bay to sell at their San Francisco Ferry Building location. They also sell cakes, French candies, marshmallows (guimauves), and shortbread cookies.

Paris Baguette

Locations: Berkeley, Oakland, and South San Francisco

One giant macaron from Paris Baguette is the size of about two regular-size macarons put together. It comes packaged in what looks like a coffee cup lid with a clear dome cover. I haven’t tried their other flavors or regular-size macarons, but if their giant ones are any indication, I think I’ll pass. Maybe the one I happened to get was stale, because it was on the dry side. Sadly, the only impressive characteristic about the giant macaron was its size.

a giant macaron from PB

I can’t wait to try more macarons from other places!

Here are links to the places I’ve mentioned above. (Note: these are not affiliate links. They’re for information only.)

Tell me in the comments below: Do you like macarons? Where do you like to get them?