I have become a collector of experiences this past year, and I collected my first embassy visit while my niece was visiting over her spring break. Then, of course, I wanted another embassy! So my parents and I took advantage of the annual EU Embassy Open House event to do some collecting of our own.
The previous weekend, while I had still been enjoying Colorado with my Beloved Husband, there was an extensive open house of many embassies in DC, so I got some intel from my fellow Fellows to plan our trip. The key considerations were length of the lines, performances, the presence of good food, and the quality of the swag. I was happy that there were shuttle buses to take us around since many of the embassies are quite a ways off the beaten track.
We decided to start at the Embassy of Finland, which was billed as the first “green” embassy. I was uncertain if that referred to the color or the environmental footprint, but indeed, it turned out that the embassy had invested a considerable amount in their energy infrastructure, and they are the first LEED-certified embassy. I was a bit confused initially by the metal grid in front of the building that had what appeared to be unruly vines growing up it. As I got closer and saw the red blooms, I realized that it was actually the largest rose trellis I had ever seen. I wonder if my BH would be willing to build me one of those? I assume that the dense vegetation shades the front of the building from the hot summer sun.
We entered through security, and I avoided embarrassing myself by remembering to take my keys out of my pocket so I wouldn’t set off the scanner. (As a Senate staffer, I take pride in whisking my way through security checkpoints.) We proceeded down to Finland Hall where there were tables set up around the perimeter with samples of various Finnish food. I particularly liked the potato screws, which look like rotini pasta but crunch like potato chips. The lingonberry juice was also quite delicious, as was the whipped porridge and berries. That was like having dessert for breakfast. My mother has a recipe for baked Finnish pancakes that recommend lingonberries as the appropriate topping, and I was pleased that we both got to try this new fruit.
As I proceeded along the back wall, there appeared to be a display of Finnish clothes almost floating in the air. I finally realized that there was a narrow back deck that was enclosed entirely in glass so that it felt like a tree house but without all the bugs. When I looked at the embassy’s website later, I realized that there is a sun shade that gets hung in the summer to keep that area cool. I would be willing to forgo the giant rose trellis if my BH would be willing to build me one of these porches instead.
Much ado was made of Finland’s intersecting the Arctic Circle. They confidently informed us that Santa Claus’s North Pole workshop is located in Rovaniemi, and we were invited to send Santa our greetings, which they would then post. My father, ever inquisitive, took this story as license to try to learn to pronounce “Rovaniemi,” but sadly, he chose a tutor who was merely a Finnish enthusiast rather than a native. I believe he eventually found a more qualified instructor and was satisfied with his lesson. (His response was, “That’s what I thought it was.”)
After a short distance on the shuttle bus, our next stop was the Embassy of Belgium. We briefly debated skipping the long line, but I suggested that lines were unlikely to be any shorter at other embassies, so we stuck it out. In anticipating the popularity of this embassy, I had neglected to figure in that important trifecta of chocolate, beer, and waffles. When we finally arrived at the entrance, we were each given a bag for all our swag.
Sadly, I missed the opportunity for a photo with the giant Smurf who was running around the courtyard while I was in line. It was a Disney-esque costume that was obviously much taller than the human inside. He apparently delayed his bio break as long as he could, because when I saw him, he was making all deliberate haste inside. That was not trivial since his cap was slightly taller than the entrance, and even once inside he seemed slightly wider than the door to the restroom. These are all challenges to being a Smurf that I had not even considered.
Inside the embassy, I was particularly impressed by how many rooms had been cleared out for the event. There were rooms in which there were displays about the military, a room about science in Belgium and the Solvay conference, and another that had examples of Belgian comic books. The swag was also excellent. One room was full of boxes of chocolate, each box containing six pieces of Guylian delicacies. Another room had samples of sugar. Yet another room had Europe’s answer to peanut butter; as someone who does not like peanut butter, I figure I’ll take it home for my family to try out. I was impressed that the Ambassador had cleared off his desk so we could see what a fancy ambassador’s office looked like. I assume it is not always so beautifully tidy on a daily basis.
On our way out the door, we each collected our one bottle allotment of Belgian beer. There were eight different tabs to pull, and the color on the other end determined which bottle we received. My parents decided not to take their beer on the plane with them, so I volunteered to take good care of their donated goods. I’m such a good person.
As we entered the embassy courtyard, we each got a quarter of a Belgian waffle. These waffles had only a superficial resemblance to American-style Belgian waffles. These waffles were far more dense, without being heavy, and the sugar seemed to be cooked inside rather than sprinkled on top. They were absolutely delicious, and I may be spoiled for Belgian waffles forever.
I highly recommend the embassy events as a way of getting an international flavor without paying for a plane ticket. We even had dinner at a French restaurant later to finish our European day out.