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Brave crowds, be part of history during inaugural week


In this story:

George W.'s Big Day

Fun for freeloaders

Monumental closure

Museum mania

Spook city


(CNN) -- Trekking to Washington during a presidential inauguration might be a little like visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Pamplona amid the running of the bulls.

The sidewalks are crammed with riled-up revelers, lodging is scarce and everyone's jostling for the best view. But for all the extra hassles, you know you're witnessing one of those defining moments.

Or in this case, a truly historic one.

Bush inauguration promises to 'celebrate America's spirit'
Take a helicopter ride over the scandal tour route
Take a virtual ride on the SpyDrive

If you're into presidential pageantry, and you like mingling with the masses, the weekend of January 20 might be a fine time to invade the United States capital. Even if you don't have tickets to the innumerable inaugural parties and performances, there's plenty to see and experience without them.

George W.'s Big Day

The Big Event, of course, will be that swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, which starts at 11:30 a.m. EST January 20. The best views will belong to those with tickets, but some areas will be set aside for others, standing room only.

The inaugural parade, featuring six U.S. military bands and 38 marching bands, begins at 2:30 p.m. on the east side of the Capitol. It will follow Constitution Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, turning north on 15th Street, then west on Pennsylvania and ending at 17th Street. Although spectators will need tickets for the coveted bleacher seats, the public can line the streets west of New Jersey and Constitution avenues.

Beforehand, the January 18 inaugural opening celebration will be at the Lincoln Memorial. Gates open at noon, and the ceremony starts at 3:30 p.m. Admission is free, and no ticket is required.

Fun for freeloaders

If your invitation to the Texas Black Tie and Boots Ball got lost in the mail, and you can't schmooze your way into any of those other elite inaugural shindigs, there are plenty of other options for the commoners.

Want to meet Washington's most talked-about new couple? For those outside-the-beltway naifs, we don't mean George W. and Laura. We're talking Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the giant pandas who recently moved from China to the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

The public can see the pandas from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, but the zoo recommends arriving early to avoid the anticipated huge crowds. Also, parking is limited; public transportation is your best bet.

Later, visitors can ponder how President-elect Bush stacks up against his predecessors with a tour of the monuments, including the elegant Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. At the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, a new addition includes a statue of the Depression and World War II-era president in a wheelchair.

Monumental closure

As for the Washington Monument, you'll have to admire it from afar. It's closed until February for the last phase of renovations.

Don't plan on dropping by the White House January 19 or 20 to say hey to Bill or Dubya, either. It will be closed both days as the presidential baton is passed. But on Sunday, January 21, it will reopen with a new occupant and a free open-house event for the public. Somehow, checking out the hot spots isn't quite as satisfying when your tour bus is stuck in D.C. traffic. Consider perusing them after the crowds have cleared by signing up for the Monuments by Moonlight tour, which will take you to 100 points of interest over 2 1/2 hours. Sites include the Capitol Building, the White House, the FDR Memorial and Kennedy Center.

Museum mania

As any museum enthusiast well knows, Washington has a most impressive array of them, most of which are affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, and many of which are free.

They include the National Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

The National Gallery of Art, meanwhile, presents one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Art Nouveau. It runs through January 28.

Across the river in Arlington, Virginia, the journalism-centered Newseum will present several programs and exhibits related to the presidency, including coverage of the ceremony and parade on its 126-foot-long Video News Wall.

Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas will talk about the presidency, and visitors can compete for prizes in a presidential-themed "Newsmania" game. And an exhibit, "Mr. President," explores how the press has covered the White House.

Spook city

For the cloak-and-dagger set, the Spies of Washington Tour gives travelers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the city's history of international espionage.

It includes a tour of spy sites, a trip to the National Cryptologic Museum, and a look at the likes of Aldrich Ames, the ex-CIA agent who sold secrets to the Soviets; Alger Hiss, the former State Department official who was convicted of perjury for denying his involvement in a Soviet spy ring; and William J. Donovan , the so-called "father of American intelligence."

On yet another espionage-related outing, retired KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin and retired FBI Special Agent David Major lead the 2 1/2-hour SpyDrive tour on January 15 and 18. It begins at 12:15 p.m.

When you're done, hop on the bus for the Scandal Tour, which takes travelers to the sites of several infamous events in American history, including the Watergate break-in, Gary Hart's tryst with Donna Rice, and Ollie North and Fawn Hall's document-shredding party.

And lest we forget our presidential history, it also includes a stop at the White House.

Ceremony to unveil FDR statue -- wheelchair and all
January 10, 2001
New pandas delight visitors in U.S. debut
January 10, 2001
Patty Davis: Kids, adults alike fall in love with new pandas
January 10, 2001
Washington Monument reopens after $10 million facelift
July 31, 2000
U.S.-bound London exhibit celebrates Art Nouveau
July 5, 2000
Newseum opens outside Washington
April 18, 1997

Smithsonian Institution
Official Tourism Web site of Washington, D.C.
National Zoo
Spies of Washington Tour
National Air and Space Museum
National Gallery of Art
Scandal Tours

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