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Embassy open-houses and other cultural events return to D.C. this May!

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Look out Rick Steves! Now almost anybody in Washington this coming month can experience plenty of foreign culture without leaving Washington, D.C.

Staff from 80 embassies will open their doors during the next two Saturdays. This Saturday, May 3, the non-EU countries, 52 in all, will participate in the Around the World Embassy Tour. The event is organized by Cultural Tourism DC as part of the 7th Annual Passport DC, a month-long celebration which includes several other international cultural events such as Embassy Chef Challenge and the Asian Heritage Festival.

Michelle Cragle, Cultural Tourism DC communications director, says embassies reported 28,000 total visitors during last year’s embassy tour. “Passport DC is a profound way for people to learn by experience. It provides a unique opportunity for people to compare and discover the similarities among nations across the globe with their art, dance, music, textiles, food and so much more,” says Steve Shulman, Cultural Tourism DC executive director.

“As a young man,” he said he “had the opportunity to travel internationally and those experiences inform my actions today. Passport DC is the next best thing to international travel -- and because you never leave DC -- there’s no jet lag.”

This Saturday, the embassies from six continents will invite visitors to explore their world and enjoy the culture. Visitors can experience the country’s food, art, dance and music, including Capoeira demonstrations, Tango lessons, henna applications, Ceylon tea tastings, Thai massages and Dominican rum tastings. The complete list of the participating embassies is available online.

New embassies this year include the League of Arab States, Republic of Congo, Fiji, Gabon, Kenya, Philippines and Uganda. A printable/downloadable PDF map is available on the Cultural Tourism DC website along with an interactive map.

Shortcut to Europe: European Union Embassies’ Open House

The following Saturday, May 10, the European Union Delegation to the U.S. and the 28 embassies of the member states invite visitors to experience authentic music, dance, food, film and art of Europe's distinctive nations during the 8th annual Shortcut to Europe embassy open houses.

"The EU Open House is a highlight on the Washington, D.C. events calendar," says Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, head of the Delegation of the European Union to the U.S. "There is no better way to demonstrate the EU's motto of unity in diversity than by showcasing the range and richness of European culture and society."

There are fewer embassies on the EU tour than the non-EU tour from the previous Saturday. So expect more visitors at each embassy. Last year, Silvia Kofler, EU Delegation head of press and public diplomacy, says the EU embassies had a combined 96,000 visits, with an average person visiting about four embassies.

Once again, Germany has joined with France, while the German embassy continues its renovations.

In 2013, Kofler notes, Croatia participated as a candidate member and now Croatia is participating as a full EU member state, bringing the total membership to 28 countries. Last year she said the embassies with the highest turnout were Italy with 7,000 visitors and the British with 9,700.

A plan is important for those on the tours. “My advice,” Kofler says, “would be to start early. Lines get longer as the day goes on. Also, rather than waiting for buses if there are lines, walking, biking and Metro are great alternatives.”

Organizers will have 30 shuttle buses running (free of cost) and have put much effort and resources into having the operation run smoothly.

New on the EU tour this year is the offer of free souvenir European-style passports that guests can have stamped by each embassy they visit.

The individual programs at the embassies and the EU Delegation vary every year, but here are some highlights for this year's tour:

The Belgians are celebrating the bi-centennial of the birth of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone.

Several embassies are celebrating 10 years of EU membership, marking the 10th anniversary of the EU's biggest enlargement (accession of 10 new member countries from Central and Eastern Europe, plus two Mediterranean states in May 2004).

Tying into this theme, one of Rick Steves’ travel experts on Eastern Europe will give presentations at the embassies of Croatia and Slovakia and possibly others.

Latvia will spotlight Riga: European Capital of Culture 2014 and present an exhibition by Artis Nimanis, designer of handcrafted crystal and glass.

Denmark will present Copenhagen as European Green Capital 2014. As a separate event later in the day, the embassy will host the Eurovision Song Contest party with a live satellite feed from Copenhagen, host city of the annual competition this year (tickets available for purchase online).

This year organizers are also spotlighting the May election of a new European Parliament and marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the iron curtain.

Check the website for the complete list of the 28 embassies participating in the open houses.

On both Saturdays, admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring identification. Some embassies will conduct security checks. Please avoid bringing large bags and backpacks. Photography is prohibited at some locations.

The embassies are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturdays. Expect heavy attendance and little parking, especially along Embassy Row. There will be free shuttle bus service.

Shortcut to Europe is part of a series of cultural events taking place throughout May known as the European Month of Culture. This festival of events for the American public highlights the diverse cultures of the 28 countries of the European Union. The festival is held during May to coincide with Europe Day, May 9, which commemorates the historic declaration that led to the formation of the EU.

During the European Month of Culture, diverse programming is offered to the public including musical performances, dance, lectures, film screenings, art and other exhibitions. Most events are free. This year, nearly 80 events are planned at the National Gallery of Art, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Millennium Stage, the Phillips Collection, the Library of Congress, EU embassies and other cultural sites.

In addition to the embassy open houses, other featured events include: Estonia in Concert at the Kennedy Center where the renowned composer Arvo Pärt makes a rare U.S. appearance during the performance of his music by Estonia Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. See the EU website for details on the many events.

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