White House Christmas Tour

THE STORY

We were told if we contacted our congressman several months in advance we could apply for tickets to see the White House decorated for Christmas – for FREE. We arranged with our friends who live outside DC, applied and were approved.

Our tickets were for entrance at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, December 8th, so after contemplating the traffic from Virginia to DC, in rush hour, we took the train (a very pleasant experience). We arrived in time for an hour’s visit to the White House Visitors Center, two blocks from the tour entrance at Hamilton and 15th Streets. The “Visitor’s Center” was just ok, in my opinion.  Union Station was WONDERFUL!

The day before Toby had gone to see his doctor for a cardiac stress test. This requires an IV shot of some type of radiation. Naturally, at the White House we had to go through four security stations. The first was simply to check our IDs to see if we were on the approved list. The second was when the alarms started going off. The Secret Service agent holding the dosimeter was freaking out and made everyone stop. When she finally took the meter over to Toby – bingo he was pulled aside. They took him in a private room to test him for dose levels. He told them about the test the previous day and the meter confirmed he had indeed only a small, medical dose. They released him, but failed to give him a “PASS”, so the next two entrances through

Kay & Toby with The Willard Hotel behind them.

Kay & Toby with The Willard Hotel behind them.

two different security checks caused the alarms to trigger. Poor Toby was mortified, to say the least, but it was surely the most exciting part for the day for the Secret Service.

Some of the people who were entering with us looked suspiciously at Toby for the balance of the tour. We, instead, had a big laugh.

THE TOUR

Before we entered our tour, I showed Kay & Toby the Willard Hotel, which is just across 15th Street from the White House. As the story goes, every afternoon President Wilson walked to the coffee shop at the Willard. If anyone needed to talk to him or intercede for a favor they would wait for his arrival in the lobby. This is where we eventually got our “Lobbyist”.

We entered the East Visitor Entrance, on the ground floor guarded by large penguins and a glorious, multi-sized, silver ball ornament garland which lead us down to the East Colonnade and East Garden Room. The colonnade’s ceiling was covered in hundreds of dangling snowflakes intermingled with one large flake for each State, Territory and Commonwealth. As you walked through the Colonnade you could look out on the Ease Garden filled with merry snowmen.

1East Entrance

At the end of the colonnade was a room dedicated to the White House’s current furry inhabitants – Bo and Sunny (Portuguese Water Dogs) and tennis ball trees. The same room held a small gift ship, beautiful tree and a bust of Mr. Lincoln.

2Bo & Sunny

Continuing on the lower level we visited the White House Library, The Vermeil Room and The China Room. All were smaller than expected.  They are, however used for small meetings and receptions by the First Lady and all tastefully decorated.  The Vermeil Room had portraits of several of the recent first ladies.

The China room displays the various official china including the new service chosen by Michelle Obama.  Not every new administration chooses new china.

We went up one level to the Green Room, the Blue Room, The Red Room, The State Dining Room, The East Room, The Grand Foyer and Cross Hall.

The Green Room was brilliantly decorated in exotic peacocks and the colors of sparkling gems, teal and feathers in the garlands, the trees and wreaths accented the colors of the room. The wall were covered in emerald silk.

The next level up we entered the historic East Room under a canopy of sparkling icicles and glimmering silver spheres, we were awed by a multitude of white, silver and champagne tones. Four grand trees covered in ornate decorations of iridescent pearls, frosty icicles, vintage jewels, and delicate buttons trim the largest room in the White House  

The White House crèche graces this room. The nativity scene made of terra cotta and intricately carved wood was fashioned in Naples, Italy in the eighteenth century. Donated to the White House in the 1960s, this piece has sat in the east room for the holidays for more than forty-five years, spanning nine administrations.

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I have not mentioned the draperies, the rugs and the chandeliers, but they are of the finest I have seen and we have visited more mansions in our great nation that I can count. These pictures will not do them justice. It is, after all, our White House and should be the most outstanding of all our homes…and in my opinion, it is.

The Blue Room had the grandest and most patriotic room of decorations. This room is dedicated to our Nation’s service members, veterans, and their families. The whole room is decorated in red, white, blue and golden stars. The tree sits in the center of the room in from of a double door facing the Grand Foyer, the entrance to The White House. The doors in the foyer are flanked by our flags and the Presidential Seal.

The Red Room was once First Lady Dolley Madison’s famous salon. This room customarily glistens with cranberries during the holidays. The two trees in the parlor emit a warm crimson glow.

The State Dining room was decorated for children of every age with giant nutcrackers, teddy bears, a giant gumball machine and trees on the grand table all made of real candy. This is a tradition started by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who announced her first theme would be Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.  This is also the room where the Ginger Bread White house is displayed. This year was covered in milk chocolate.

The Grand Foyer and Cross Halls are the graceful entrance of all Guests and dignitaries to White House events. Today it had a grand piano and chairs set up for a string quartet for an upcoming reception. The room is most impressive and inviting with marble flooring and steps up to the open double doors inviting you straight in to gather in the Blue room or to the State Dining room on the left or the grand East Room to the right. This was our point of exit.

x16main hall entrance

Standing in the Grand Foyer with the State Dining Room behind us.

piano tuner

Walking out that door you knew you had been a part of a great historical experience. Every room we went through had portraits of past presidents and First Ladies. When you step out the door the grand light above and the ornate front door with the imposing Washington Monument in the distance was beyond words. This time of year stationed between the White House and the Washington Monument is the National Christmas Tree, surrounded by a tree from each state and territory.

We walked down to see the National Tree and found, by accident, the oldest and most famous restaurant and bar, The Ebbit Grill. Great food, great service, wonderful ambiance at the most reasonable of prices.

 

South Dakota (in three parts) PART I – NATIONAL MUSIC MUSEUM

Between Sioux City and Sioux Falls in Vermillion, SD on the campus of The University of South Dakota you will find one of the largest (perhaps THE largest) musical Instrument collection in the world; some hundreds of years old and many very rare. The National Music Museum: America’s Shrine to Music & Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments. It was founded in 1973. This museum is recognized as “A Landmark of American Music” by the National Music Council.

The museum’s renowned collections, which include more than 13,500 American, European, and non-Western instruments from all cultures and historical periods, are among the world’s most inclusive. They include many of the earliest, best preserved, and historically most important instruments known to survive. The quality and scope of this museum has earned it international recognition.

After our sweet-granddaughter’s visit to the Museum of Art in St. Louis her first day with us, this was not on her, “Things I really want to do on vacation” list.  Nevertheless, we pulled off the highway at about noon and finally had a late lunch – early dinner at one of the best diners EVER:  Café Brule (like the cream dessert) at 3:30 p.m.  We all did enjoy it, even sweet granddaughter.  I will let the pictures tell the tale. This is a small fraction of the instruments we saw and pictures we took.

Rare Cello, Violin and bow by Antionio Stradivari.   NOTE:  Granddaughter with heard phones, so we can hear how each instrument sounds when played.

Rare Cello, Violin and bow by Antionio Stradivari.
NOTE: Granddaughter with head phones, so we can hear how each instrument sounds when played.

Rare Cello, Violin and bow by Antionio Stradivari.

Rare Cello, Violin and bow by Antionio Stradivari.

BB King's sweet Lucille, signed and dated.

BB King’s sweet Lucille, signed and dated.

BB King's sweet Lucille, signed and dated.

BB King’s sweet Lucille, signed and dated.

Stromberg Banjo and Guitar

Stromberg Banjo and Guitar

Resonator Guitar by Dobro Brothers

Resonator Guitar by Dobro Brothers

Martin Guitar Model D28

Martin Guitar Model D28

Trumpet/prop from The Beatle's Sargent Pepper Movie

Trumpet/prop from The Beatle’s Sargent Pepper Movie

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The only existing all ivory Lute, circa 1550

The only existing all ivory Lute, circa 1550