I'm sure your bags are packed and your itinerary is set for CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference, which begins this weekend in Washington DC. Hopefully you plan to eat at one of the three places I recommended, before leaving the city. After you have filled up on empanadas, a half-smoke or authentic mexican cuisine, walk it off by visiting one of the many area attractions. If there is one indisputable fact about Washington DC, it's that there is no shortage of entertainment - specifically in the form of places to visit. If you haven't visited one of the many Smithsonian Museums (the National Air and Space Museum is my favorite) or the United States Holocaust Museum (a moving experience, to say the least) you had better make time and ignore my list of three lesser-known places to spend your free time (which don't make TripAdvisors top ten).
- Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress, but which is also the de facto national library of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States.The Library is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill. The collections of the Library of Congress include more than 32 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, a Gutenberg Bible and the Betts Stradivarius. The library does not publicly circulate, but if you are interested in handling books or doing research you can obtain a reader registration card in person at the Madison Building, Room LM 140 (first floor near the Independence Avenue enterance). Thomas Jefferson Building - 10 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20540.
- National Archives and Records Administration. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independant agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives. Visitors have the opportunity to explore our nation's history through documents, photos and records. Everything you learned in US history classes will come alive here. My favorite exhibit at NARA is the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, which is the permanent home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights. 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408.
- The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. I doubt you will find this building on any reputable list of places to visit in Washington DC, but that doesn't mean it's not worth your time. Named after former United States President Ronald Reagan, it is the first federal building in Washington, D.C. designed for both governmental and private sector purposes. It is the second-largest government building in the Washington Metropolitan area. Inside the building is adorned with images, memories and quotes from the former President. "There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams". The building also offers an exhibit on the Berlin Wall, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and is home to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Memorial exhibit. A full service food court is located on the bottom floor of the building, which makes this a great place to visit while grabbing lunch. 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC, 2004.
We live in an amazing country which allows each of us the opportunity to live according to the dictates of our own conscience. Washington DC holds a special place in my heart, not just because I am a former resident, but because it offers a history of our country that few other cities can claim. Whatever you choose to do while visiting in conjunction with GAC, I hope it is outside of your hotel room.