With the current travel restrictions at home and abroad, most of us in the short-run will only have staycations to consider. One benefit of staying close-by is to explore lesser known “gems” in our own backyards. Having lived most of my life in Washington, DC, I am often surprised to find how many unknown special places there are that don’t make the typical travel guides. The White House, the Capitol, Mt. Vernon and so many public monuments are always at the top of everyone’s list. However, the city is filled with many less well-known statues and buildings. In the past, the Washingtonian magazine had a scavenger hunt that had local residents racing around town to identify buildings that matched up with a series of small photos.
One added resource comes from the many foreign embassies based in DC. Increasingly in the last 5 years, many embassies now proudly display a statue of the country’s founder or other leading patriot. The Brazilian statue of Alberto Santos-Dumont is so lifelike in walking by in the evenings it looks like there is someone standing on the corner! My dog would not have it when confronted with a very large statue in front of the Bulgarian embassy. It stood on a pedestal giving the impression of a really, really tall looming figure.
What I find intriguing is the number of small parks that dot the city. One of the larger ones is the tranquil Kahlil Gibran Park on Mass. Ave. Nearby a much smaller park is nestled in a small triangle where two streets cross. It pays tribute to the 19th-century Irish patriot, Robert Emmet. A few blocks farther down Mass. Ave. a statue stands proudly honoring Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the “George Washington” of Czechoslovakia.
As a child, I remembered all the monuments but was especially intrigued by the National Cathedral, an architecturally authentic replica of the 13th century and the Islamic Center (the “Mosque”). The latter has glittering mosaics in an internal dome and a tall minaret where the muezzin makes the call to prayer.
Here are some of my favorite local “gems”.
Jerome the Priest, by Ivan Meštrović, the Croatian Embassy, Mass. Ave., Washington, D.C.
Adjacent to the Indonesian Embassy stands a remarkable 16 foot statue of the Hindu goddess, Saraswati.
Dupont Circle is dominated by an imposed statue dedicated in 1921 sculpted by Daniel Chester French. It is now one of the most popular spots in DC for gatherings, local cafes and city living in row houses and apartments.
This is one of my special favorites. Known as Dol hareubangs they come from the Jeju Island, just off South Korea’s southern tip. These gentle, grandfatherly figures are credited with offering protection. I discovered them out strolling with my dog. They mysteriously appeared and just as suddenly disappeared with no fanfare. I asked at the nearby local cultural center where they went. No one knew! I am glad that I captured their photos before they disappeared.