When I moved to Washington, DC twenty years ago, I spent every free weekend touring the city. Starting with the monuments to the Smithsonian museums to Georgetown, I then ventured out to Mount Vernon, Alexandria, and Annapolis. But as I became more settled, the sightseeing gave way to rolling my eyes at tourists as I worked my way around them while they stood on the wrong side of the Metro escalators. There were still times when I stopped to admire my city, either while driving visitors around or attending Fourth of July events near the Capitol or Lincoln Memorial. But, increasingly, playing tourist meant getting away from where I live. And then two really interesting experiences came my way.
First, a friend asked me to go on a tour of the gargoyles at the National Cathedral. I had been to the cathedral a few times for Chrismas Eve services, and likely looked up at a gargoyle in passing. But in taking an official tour, I realized there were actually quite a few quirky gargoyles, giving me an entirely new impression of the cathedral. Who knew there was a Darth Vader gargoyle? On the National Cathedral? Where presidents attend services? It sounds crazy, but it came from a competition in the 1980s for kids to design a gargoyle. Now, I can’t drive past the cathedral without thinking, “use the force” (which I know Darth Vader didn’t say, but it’s what pops into my head.)
Recently, knowing that I was trying to improve my photography skills, my sister bought me a gift card to Washington Photo Safari. When I looked over the classes on their website, there were a lot of monument tours, which led me to imagine myself surrounded by tourists and rolling my eyes again. Then I came across a class for a photo tour of Chinatown. When I first arrived in DC, Chinatown was not the safest place for a young co-ed to be hanging out. But it has since transformed into a Times Square-like major hub, with lots of restaurants, shops, bars, and theaters. I have now been there numerous times, but always in a rush to meet friends. I had never taken the time to explore the area.
I signed up for the photo safari, and had a lovely afternoon with the instructor and one other student, who also happened to be a local. We walked slowly and stopped to notice details. I was surprised at how many things I had been oblivious to before – like an old clock jutting out from the side of large building – and embarrassed that I had never stopped to look at the Navy Memorial just next to Chinatown. I had always walked right past it on my way to my favorite tea shop (Teaism).
These two rather specific tours of my town made me realize how much there is to offer right where I live. I’m always planning my next big trip. And while I won’t stop trying to fill up my passport any time soon, there are plenty of weekends in between those big trips where I can turn off the DVR and go see where I live. I’m sure there’s something unexpected about where you live, too.
If you’re in Washington, DC and are interested in these tours, please see: Washington Photo Safari