Thursday, August 22, 2013

I found my thrill... on Capitol Hill...

One of the most surprising things I discovered about myself on my trip to Washington, DC earlier this summer was the tremendous fascination I had with the Capitol Building. Sure, I had always thought the building appeared to be lovely, but pictures always made it seem somewhat uninviting and stale. When I first came upon the building during a quick drive through DC with N, I found myself strangely attracted to the building. I wanted to know so much more about it... When was it built? How is it organized? What are its secrets?

Lucky for me, my well-prepared coworker started working with her senator from her home state of Louisiana to get us tours for various venues well in advance of our trip. (Thanks, girl!) While our tour was given by a very young, very cute Senate staffer, we did get to randomly run into Rand Paul on our visit which was pretty neat. Our staffer met us at the Hart Building, and brought us to the Capitol through an underground tunnel via a tiny subway (pictured above). The tour was amazing! I could go on and on about all the stuff I learned, but I'll let you take a tour and see for yourself. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few of the pictures of some of my favorite parts of the tour so I don't totally spoil the visit : )

When it was originally constructed, the Capitol Building was going to be the center of Washington, DC. These kids are standing at the exact center of the building, which would have been the center of the city if the city designers had stuck with the original plan. It is also the spot where George Washington had originally been planned to be interred.

The Capitol Building houses a gift of a golden Magna Carta. This was given to the United States from the British government in celebration of America's bicentennial anniversary of its independence from British rule. Kind of interesting, no? One of the original four drafts of the actual Magna Carta can be viewed at the National Archives.

The Capitol Rotunda was our next stop, and was very impressive. Standing at 180 feet, the rotunda is used for major ceremonial events. Notice anyone familiar in the painting? Yes, that's George Washington! Random, right?

The rotunda houses several large statues of busts. These are primarily statues and busts of former presidents (including George Washington), but other prominent figures (such as Martin Luther King, Jr) appear there as well.

The old Senate Chamber was one of our last stops. Used from 1810 - 1859, this chamber witnessed various fierce debates on topics such as slavery, territorial expansion, and economic policy. It was the compromises made here that kept our then young country from going to war before the Civil War.

Our eyes were treated with a view of this gorgeous chandelier upon exiting the Old Senate Chamber. Our tour guide didn't offer much insight into this beautiful piece, but a simple Google search answered my questions (and dispelled the myths) regarding the history of it. Surprisingly, the chandelier was not present during the time the Old Senate Chamber was active... it wasn't added until 1965.

Hope you enjoyed these posts about my visit to Washington, DC. This has been such an amazing summer - I really don't want it to end. More posts to come about my other adventures! Stay tuned!

Until next time...

--- Becks

Sunday, August 4, 2013


"I cannot live without books." - Thomas Jefferson

I love books. Yes, I love reading but I love books themselves too. I like touching them, smelling them, seeing them... I'm a bibliophile in every sense of the word. My obsession with books started at a young age - my mom read to me throughout my childhood, a gift I'll always cherish. In school, I read books as they were assigned, but I also read books just for fun. I found it freeing, and enjoyed being able to explore the world of words (even if I hadn't explored the actual world yet). It came as no surprise to many that I majored in English in college (even if it wasn't my first major - it was definitely one I didn't regret).

Last fall, I stumbled upon an art exhibit at the Bakersfield Museum of Art called "Out of Print." The entire exhibit featured sculptures and paintings that used books as their major medium. It was FABULOUS! Below are a couple of collages of pictures I took at the event.

A paperback dog, two phonebook carvings, and a dyed flower... pictures do not do these justice!

Paintings on stacks of books - the elephant at the bottom stood over 5 feet tall!

When I visited DC in June, my friend asked if I wanted to join her for some tours set up by her home state senator. I eagerly accepted the invite, and was beyond thrilled to discover that a private tour of the Library of Congress was included in our scheduled tours. 

The exterior of the Thomas Jefferson Building 

Although the Library of Congress has been around since 1800, the Library as we know it is version 2.0 (the original was destroyed by fire during the War of 1812). The Library is now housed in 4 buildings in DC, the most famous being the above pictured Thomas Jefferson Building. Topped by a 23 carat gold plated flame, the Jefferson building opened it doors in 1897 to much fanfare. Strangely enough, it wasn't referred to as the Thomas Jefferson Building until 1980, having been referred to simply as the main building for nearly a century. Our tour took place entirely in this building.

A view of the North Mosaic Corridor

After a short introductory video (which we unfortunately missed), our small tour group was led to the North Mosaic Corridor. Having known a bit about the grandeur about the library, I thought that this was the start of the Great Hall and took a ton of pictures. I had prohibited myself to look at Google images before arriving (I hate spoilers), and literally had no idea of amazing sights I was about to see...

THIS is the Great Hall. Now, the Library was built with the idea in mind that all that visited the Great Hall would enter from these enormous bronze doors on the first floor. The tours, however, lead you throw a dark, marble staircase that gives you little indication that you're about to witness something so grand. The tour guide warned us that from this point forward our mouths would be agape in awe, and she was right! 

Another thing the tour guide remarked at was the amount of gold leafing used to detail the paintings, mosaics, and murals on the walls of the hall. No picture could adequately capture the glimmer these walls have - it's simply spectacular! At the time it was built, it was said that no one building in the capital had more gold leaf on or in it, and I would be surprised if that weren't still true today.

From the ground floor, the tour guide had us pay attention to the pair of marble staircases that flank either side of the Great Hall. The base of each has a statue of a woman holding the torch of knowledge to light your way. Each of the cherubs on the staircases represent different jobs, hobbies, and other ways of life that "typical Americans" may have. I found them to be charming. We used these staircases to make our way up to what would be the grand finale of our tour. 

We climbed one final staircase just before entering the last stop on our tour, stopping midway to view the above pictured mosaic of Minerva. For those not aware, Minerva is the Roman Goddess of learning and wisdom. Although she carries a spear, she actually represents peace in this mosaic and again "educates" the viewer about the various occupations of wisdom. This stunning mosaic glistens again with real gold leafing, and is the perfect stopping point before the grand finale.

photo credit to

Somewhat infuriatingly, we were stopped just before entering the final room and advised that no photos were allowed beyond the door. We were also told that nearly every person that ever enters the door says the exact same word upon entering. What we were not told,  however, was that we were about to enter the Reading Room. This room is where thousands of researchers from across the country begin their research in the Library of Congress. Any person over the age of 16 with a Reader Card is permitted to enter and research from the Reading Room (news of which simultaneously excited me and broke my heart - there was no way I was going to be able to swing a visit there during this trip). You can read more about visiting it here. Trust me - it's on my list for next time.

The coolest thing about the Library of Congress is that anyone (yes - anyone over 16) can actually look at the books here. Readers have access to a collection of over 34.5 million printed works, included millions of first edition books, comic books, newspapers, maps, etc and many more music and film records. It's a bibliophile's dream! I can't wait to go back and look at the books myself one day. If you're interested in taking your own tour, it's best to do so with an appointment but not necessary. You can read about the various tours available here

There is a lot of history about the Library of Congress, but at the risk of getting wordier than I already have, I'll let you google it :) Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

Until next time...

--- Becks

PS: This is the guard dog that was standing outside of the building when we left our tour. Not so scary, is he? :)