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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thing 35: Embassy Open House Day

Good Friend David and I have a thing for embassies. It is nerdy and embarrassing in the extreme, but I figure it was bound to come out eventually, so here we go. We love embassies. We group them by world geographic regions, and then walk to them. On weekends. When they're...not open. Then we take pictures out front of them. And we learn fun facts about those countries. Then we cook something from that part of the world, or visit a restaurant that celebrates that particular cuisine. We've been doing this very slowly over the past two years. Our goal is eventually to have visited every embassy in DC. I am hanging my head in shame as I type this.

Anyway, you can imagine our utter glee and excitement when I saw a sign in the metro for EU EMBASSY OPEN HOUSE DAY! This is an international affairs nerd's fantasy made real. There was even a "passport" to print off from the website that you could get stamped at every embassy you visited! Just a word of warning, we took a lot of photos over the course of the day, so this entry looks a lot longer than it is. Don't give up!

Last Saturday, at 10:00 am sharp, GFD and I met in Dupont Circle and began walking up Massachusetts Avenue to tour as many embassies as we possibly could in one day. We began with the Embassy of Luxembourg:

The Embassy of LuxembourgIt was already packed full of people, even though it had only just opened. Throughout the day, GFD and I remained astonished at how popular this event was. We were pretty sure our love of embassies was unique. And sure, we're probably the only ones who walk for miles to take our pictures in front of embassies that aren't open. But apparently, hundreds of people are happy to spend there sunny Saturday touring European embassies. Many of them had long lines to get in all day.

The embassy of Luxembourg is large and spacious, with a beautiful ceiling in the main conference room:

The Ceiling at the Embassy of Luxembourg
Next stop: Bulgaria. The Bulgarian embassy had a sampling of wine (not very good), feta cheese (very good), canapes that didn't look particularly Bulgarian, and a traditional Bulgarian folk band, which GFD and I liked a lot, but comes across kind of annoying on the video.

Bulgarian Canapes
A Bulgarian Specialty? Cheese Cubes with Cocktail Olives

Then it was up the street to Greece. We were hoping for retsina and spanikopita. Instead, they had a very Greek buffet of potato chips, pretzels, and Coca Cola. They did, however have a table that featured all kinds of Greek products, but you were not invited to take those home with you.

Greek Products

Next stop, to Cyprus. The embassy of Cyprus was a small place, the main attraction was a travel movie being broadcast in the main room. There were, however, snacks. Coconut candies, and strange fig and rose flavored gummies and a large platter of halloumi cheese samples. Halloumi is salty and firm, like feta but less creamy. Next to the samples are pamphlets with recipes featuring halloumi cheese, which I cannot wait to test out.

Cypriotic Coconut Candies.  Yum!

Cypriotic Fig Flavored Gummies.  Ew!

Me, with a Knight of MaltaAt this point, we transitioned from Massachusetts Avenue to Connecticut Avenue, to see the Maltese embassy. It is a tiny townhouse, not much to tour. We waited downstairs with one of the Knights of Malta until the group upstairs left and made room for us. When we were finally allowed upstairs, we saw why it had taken so long -- our group of about twenty was herded into the Ambassador's office, where he and his wife greeted us, shaking hands. Then the Ambassador himself gives us a brief tutorial about his country of origin -- its colonial history, exports and industry, language and culture. And no, the Maltese Falcon has nothing to do with Malta. Someone asked.

As we left the Maltese embassy, the shuttle bus was just stopping, and we hopped on for a ride up Connecticut Avenue to the Slovakian and Austrian embassies. The Slovakian embassy was airy and spacious. They were serving some delicious cinnamon strudel.

The Slovakian Embassy
Slovakian Ceramics
Across the way was the Austrian embassy. Once inside, in the main foyer whose centerpiece is a giant gold statue of a violinist, there was a line for Austrian coffee and line for a tasting of Austrian wines. We chose the wine line (surprise!), which took a very long time because each group of about 12 were tasting eight wines. Luckily, GFD and I began talking to a very nice couple in line behind us...who turned out to be the parents of the babysitter of one of my best friends in college. The Austrian Embassy
Austrian Wine Tasting
Two of the wines turned out to be so good that GFD and I ordered a mixed case with both of them, to split between the two of us. Effective marketing!

Then we took the shuttle down to Spring of Freedom Street in Rock Creek Park, to visit the Czech and Hungarian embassies.

Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

I'm Hungary for Paprika CreamThese embassies were about to close as we were visiting, but we had just enough time for a free Pilsner Urquell, to pose with a woman in costume, and to make fun of the Hungarian's love for industrial size tubes of paprika cream. (And before I hear from angry Hungarians, that bit is a joke. I've never had it, but GFD assures me that paprika cream is actually really good).

At this point, the logistics of the event kind of broke down. It was 2pm, and the Czech and Hungarian embassies had closed for the day. The shuttle bus arrived, but it was already full. No one was going to get off here, because both embassies were already closed. And there were about 50 people waiting to get on the bus. The buses were running about every 20 minutes. So GFD made the impulsive and poorly thought out idea to walk back to Dupont.

After half an hour, when we still hadn't even passed the zoo and were fantasizing about what we wanted to eat for our very late lunch, we saw the error in our way. We hailed a cab in the middle of the parkway and asked the driver to drop us off in front of Potbelly Sandwich works on Connecticut Ave.

Quenched and sated, we strolled over to the Slovenian embassy, which was displaying posters of its brand new Euro coins and brochures of half naked men and women covered in mud and/or chocolate, entreating you to visit the lovely spas of Slovenia.

Slovenian Euros

Finally, worn out, tired, dusty, and not a little sore, Slave Driver David made me walk over to 23rd and M Street to visit the European Commission. There were a lot of information booths set up, about the environment, European police, the Euro, food safety etc, but we were so worn out that we couldn't absorb too much information. I did pick up a pretty neat calendar about European Union foods though.

The European Commission
It was around 4:00 by now, and I was in some serious need of a nap. All in all, we ate some really tasty and exotic foods, were exposed to music from other cultures, picked up about 8 lbs of promotional materials, learned some new recipes for halloumi cheese, ordered 12 bottles of cheap and delicious Austrian wines, met the Maltese Ambassador, and desperately want to visit Slovenia on our next vacation.

Where else in the world but DC could all this have happened in one day?

My Passport

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Anonymous said...

Your embassy walk idea sounds fascinating!! You should make a blog or a book or something about it including information about the region and recipes from each country.

Anonymous said...

You only made it to 12 embassies? Lazy.

Anonymous said...

me and my husband did that too. cool idea for whoever planned it. good photos

Anonymous said...

those snacks at Cyprus embassy are called Lokum... sometimes called Cypriot Delight. there made with gelatin and rosewater

dc365 said...

Anonymous #1: Our embassy walks are fun and nerdy. You should join GFD and me sometime!

Anonymous #2: We actually only made it to 11 embassies. Double plus lazy.

Anonymous #3: The German government organized this event as part of their tenure as EU President. Hopefully, it was enough of a success that the next country to hold the presidency will continue it.

Anonymous #4: It must have been the rose that I didn't like...I'm not a big fan of that flavor. Do you know what the coconut ones are? They were fabulous. Did you spend time in Cyprus?