Brave crowds, be part of history during inaugural week
By Thurston Hatcher
(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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Official Tourism Web site of Washington, D.C.
Spies of Washington Tour
National Air and Space Museum
National Gallery of Art
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.