2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Haggis, Sheep and Whiskey in Glasgow, Scotland

March 12, 2012

My next international business trip found me spending ten days in the UK traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh to Manchester and finally to London. After a very long travel day of delayed flights, I arrived in beautiful, green Glasgow, Scotland at 6:30 a.m. I arrived on the same flight as our capital region USA delegation – Camila from Baltimore, Maryland and Susan from Annapolis, Maryland. We would meet up with Julia from Virginia later, as she had arrived the day before. Watch out UK – the ladies have arrived!

Mal Maison Hotel – Glasgow

We shared a cab from the airport to our hotel, the Mal Maison in Glasgow. We had the nicest, friendliest cab driver but I forget that they drive on the opposite side of the street here and the driver’s seat is in the passenger’s seat. I get a kick out of all these cars going by that look like no one is driving them!

Fortunately, we had an early check-in arranged so I went right to sleep the moment I got into my cute little boutique hotel room. The Mal Maison is an old church-turned-hotel (it even smells like an old church but in a good, nostalgic way). You can’t help but wonder if an old building like that is haunted. Especially since the restaurant of the hotel is located in the church’s former crypt. I had a quick lunch in the “crypt” before venturing out on my own to walk around downtown Glasgow. The hotel offered a pocket-sized map highlighting a good running/walking route around the city. I followed the route for quite a ways, having no idea where I was going, and ending up along a main shopping street called Sauchiehall. Only in Scotland can you find kilt-making shops. Love it!

A kilt-maker’s shop in Glasgow

I must’ve been so distracted by kilts that I suddenly found myself completely lost. I missed the turn for the street where the hotel was and went a bit too far. Then, I started to panic realizing I didn’t have my cell phone with me and I needed to be back in 20 minutes. I backtracked for a ways. I luckily found the street in time and decided that maybe it’s not a good idea to go exploring a foreign city on my own … at least on the first day.

I met up with our delegation and we enjoyed dinner at the Mal Brasserie (i.e. the crypt) at our hotel. Being the adventurous type, I always like to try new things, especially the native dishes of each country. Tonight I had smoked haddock with black pudding and scotch egg. The haddock was a salty fish, which had a few too many bones for my preference. I was nervous about the black pudding, which is a sausage made of pig’s blood and the scotch egg, which is like a tiny hard-boiled quail’s egg. I have to say that both were surprisingly tasty (as long as you don’t think about the fact that you are eating dried blood).

March 13, 2012

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel and then prepared for our first media appointment. After a successful morning of pitching what’s new in each of our areas, we moved on to The Red Onion restaurant for a radio interview over lunch.

The Red Onion restaurant

Real Radio reaches about 750,000 people in Scotland. The host Cat Harvey thought it would be entertaining to record us Americans trying authentic Scottish dishes and commenting about what we thought. Before we even sat down to lunch, we were led to a private room where the staff proceeded to bring out haggis, the traditional national dish of Scotland. They wouldn’t tell us what it was until we tasted it. We tasted it, commented that it was okay – weird, but okay – and then they revealed that haggis is the liver, lungs, heart and other vital organs of a sheep and then boiled in a sheep’s stomach. Gulp.

We washed that down with Irn Bru, an orange, energy-like drink considered the hangover cure. We tasted, commented favorably and moved on to the third and final tasting: tea cakes.

These tea cakes look like miniature cakes wrapped in aluminum foil. After taking a bite, Cat held the microphone up to me and asked how I liked it. “Mmmm…these are so good. They taste just like American Ding Dongs!”

Cat laughed and then said, “dear, we have a slightly different meaning for ‘Ding Dong’ here in Scotland.” I blushed. A mere 750,000 people just heard me compare tea cakes to male anatomy (and oh so deliciously tasty like our American variety). Leave it to me to embarrass myself by saying something inappropriate on the radio. Egad.

Susan, Julia, Camila, Cat and me showcase tea cakes, haggis and Irn Bru while wearing stereotypical Scottish hats.

I redeemed myself that evening over cocktails with another writer at Blythswood Square (although from here on out, it became a good story to share with everyone on our journey). After our last appointment of the day, we enjoyed a delicious French dinner at Chef Brian Maule’s Chardon d’or Restaurant.

Chardon d’or Restaurant

March 14, 2012

After another delicious breakfast at our hotel, we were treated to some sightseeing of Glasgow this morning. Cat Harvey’s father, Bobbie, just happens to be an official tour guide of the city. And what an adorable man he is! With his Scottish accent and his skills on the fiddle, he was just such a pleasant addition to our experience. He met us at the hotel in a chauffeured van and we set off to see the sights:

The gang’s all here!

We were so excited to see sheep in the countryside during our tour. Aren’t sheep just so symbolic of Scotland?

As an added bonus, Bobbie agreed to take us to the nearest whiskey distillery just outside of Glasgow. We toured the Glengoyne distillery with a guide and had an in-depth lesson on how whiskey is made. Nevermind that we also learned how to drink whiskey and had to sample several different aged varieties.

Glengoyne distillery since 1833

Glengoyne

Tasting whiskey in Scotland

Touring the distillery

We had to hurry back to Glasgow for an afternoon of media appointments. Here in Scotland, they don’t mind if you’ve had a little whiskey before you meet with them. Ha ha ha. Luckily, our journalist understood when we showed up at Two Fat Ladies a wee bit late. At least we were all in very happy moods!

Two Fat Ladies = excellent meal!

After a few afternoon media appointments, we had a free evening. The ladies and I decided to do some serious shopping along Buchanan Street. I found an amazing three-strand choker pearl necklace and some Scotland souvenirs.

Shopping on Buchanan Street

As an added bonus, Cat and Bobbie Harvey kindly offered us free tickets to Monty Python’s Spamalot at The King’s Theatre. We had a fabulous dinner at Cafe Antipasti before heading over to the historic theatre. It was the perfect ending to our stay in Glasgow.

Cafe Antipasti on Sauchiehall Street

Monty Python’s Spamalot at The King’s Theatre (and my first theatre experience outside of the US)

March 15, 2012

We depart Glasgow today to head to our next stop: Edinburgh. We checked out of the hotel and took a cab to Queen Street Station to take the train. In less than an hour, we’ll be in enchanting Edinburgh…stay tuned!

Catching the train at Queen Street Station

On to Edinburgh!

Becoming the Master of my Domain…

I’m so excited to announce that today you helped me to achieve 10,000 page views! In honor of this milestone, I’ve decided to officially register my domain name. You’ll automatically be redirected to http://SecondStarToTheWrite.com. Yep, that’s right. No more “.wordpress.com.” How official is that?! A special “thank you” to each and every one of you who has visited my blog at one point or another (okay, okay. Yes, mom. I know you account for about 5,000 of those page views). It’s a real honor to share my travel stories with you. Here’s to the next 10,000!

24 Hours in Toronto

Monday, March 5, 2012

The CN Tower in Toronto

Oh Canada! You tease you. How I wish I could’ve spent some substantial time here, but instead, my business trip dictated just over 24 hours in Toronto. My mission this time was to meet with major media to promote the upcoming new flight service on Porter Airlines between Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and Washington Dulles Airport. Since my time was so limited here, I’ll just give you the highlights:

1) The CN Tower – This is the iconic visual of Toronto. You can’t help but be impressed that you’re staring at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and the world’s tallest tower (as defined by the Guiness Book of World Records). Sure, it seems like every major metropolis has a tower like this these days. Heck, I showed you one in Frankfurt in my last post. And, having lived in Las Vegas, The Stratosphere Tower immediately comes to mind….as does Seattle’s Space Needle. But this one is just majestic and really compliments the skyline of the city (nevermind that I thought everyone was calling it the CNN Tower and I kept thinking that CNN Television News had one of its offices there! Good thing nobody heard me say that out loud).  I would’ve liked to have gone to the top to see the view or dine in the revolving 360 Restaurant. Next time! Here is my very favorite picture of the CN (one N) Tower, which I snapped in a hurry as I was entering a restaurant….

2) Porter Airlines – If you’re lucky enough to be one of the six U.S. cities where Porter flies, it’s definitely the way to travel to eastern Canada. Their business model reminds me a lot of Southwest Airlines – emphasizing the short-haul for really great bargain prices. But, after touring their office at Billy Bishop Airport, I walked away impressed by the fact that they treat every single passenger as if he or she was in first class. Take the Airport Lounge for example: it’s free and available to all departing passengers. You get free wireless internet access, free coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks. You get work stations with iMac computers. And you get super comfy chairs in a modern, clean environment. Then, you board the flight and get all of the same amenities. They had me at NO MIDDLE SEAT. But, then they said COMPLIMENTARY WINE AND BEER on every flight and I was sold!

Visiting Porter Airlines

What’s so fun about driving to Porter Airline’s office? You actually get to drive your vehicle onto a ferry and be transported across water!

3) The chef’s table at Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square – It’s a hard life but somebody’s got to do it. The restaurant I was walking into when I shot that photo of the CN Tower, was at Hotel Le Germain. We went upstairs to a private chef’s table where we met with representatives from Porter Airlines and five notable local journalists and proceeded to have one of the best meals of the year. Chef Jay Tanuwidjaja personally served a multi-course wine-pairing menu which left us all speechless.

The chef’s table at Hotel Le Germain

4) The Rooster Coffee House on Broadview – I admit I drove past this charming little neighborhood coffee joint three times before I finally saw it. It blends in with all of the neighborhood homes and has just a modest little rooster symbol over the door. I was so glad to find it though because it is what a coffee house should be. It’s the kind of place that serves the coffee in real mugs and makes beautiful little designs on top of your coffee … sometimes too beautiful to drink. They also serve pastries and cookies and sandwiches. The back of the coffee shop has an area where you can play board games or read books. I was there to meet a journalist and she had chosen the location. I could see why. This place was cozy and obviously popular. It was full of people who apparently were just there to take in the atmosphere. I didn’t actually get a photo of this place. The closest thing I have is of an electric street car which passed in front of the coffee shop.

A cool electric street car

5) Driving the BEAST – On our second and final day in Toronto, I was on my own to drive around town for a series of individual media appointments. All I can say is thank God for GPS. It’s one thing to drive in an unfamiliar city. It’s another thing to drive in another country (hmmm…what are Canada’s driving laws?). It’s still quite another thing to drive in a huge Yukon, so large and beast-like that I had to hoist my 5-foot, 4-inch body into the thing by grasping a bar above the driver’s seat. Sure, I felt safe. Cars actually got the heck out of my way when I approached. But, I had no sense of how much space I needed to park, back-up, turn…you know….drive. I am proud that I survived the day with not a single scratch on that thing. Here’s Theresa, our VP of Tourism, standing next to THE BEAST. I think she is an inch or two shorter than me (and she fearlessly drove that thing like nobody’s business):

The Beast and Beastmaster

When I found out that Niagara Falls is only about one hour and 45 minutes away by car, I vowed to myself that one day I will return here. I’ll fly Porter Airlines, rent a beast, go to the top of the CN Tower and then drive to Niagara Falls. That is definitely a future blog post!

Toronto, Canada

My First International Business Trip: Germany

Sunday, February 19, 2012

So, as the new International Media Relations Manager for Destination DC, it only makes sense that my job description would require some international travel. For my first business trip abroad, the Capital Region USA delegation (which includes DC, Maryland and Virginia) embarked upon a sales & media mission to Germany, our second largest source of overseas visitors next to the UK. The mission: to meet with select media and pitch stories about DC, and train tour operators on ways to sell the Capital Region experience to potential visitors.

I have to admit that while in the car on the way to Washington Dulles International Airport, I felt like I was in a scene straight out of “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” where they dress up in business suits and tell everyone they’re business women. I guess that even though I’m 32 and I’ve been in public relations for almost a decade, the thought of traveling with a suitcase full of business suits and high heels makes me giggle a little. Like I’m pretending this is what I want to be someday when I grow up. I guess I don’t feel old enough to be doing what I’m doing. Or maybe it’s that this was the dream I always dreamed of and I can’t believe I’m actually living it. Yes, I pinched myself a few times while checking into my flight and exchanging my currency.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My nine-hour overnight flight landed in Frankfurt at 6:15 a.m. Luckily, the plane was virtually empty so I had the entire row to myself and managed to sleep a little. I collected my luggage and made my way to the taxi stand. {Insert important travel tip here}: Always wear your seatbelt in Germany! I had heard rumors about the German Autobahn, the motorway system. However, I was completely unprepared. My taxi driver averaged 180 km/hr and weaved in and out of traffic. I had to close my eyes and white-knuckle it most of the way to the hotel.

Frankfurt is the largest financial center in Europe. This is very evident by its downtown skyscrapers and the overall business feel to the area. It is also a major transportation center in Germany as it is home to one of the world’s busiest international airports, one of the largest train terminal stations in Europe and has one of the most heavily used autobahn interchanges in Europe.

I checked into the Frankfurt Marriott located downtown in the Westend building, the tallest hotel in Germany. I promptly closed the black out drapes, set my alarm and went right to sleep for the next 4 hours. When I awoke, it was around noon. I got ready (in my business woman’s suit) and went downstairs. I found the hotel’s cafe where I ordered soup and a sandwich. And practiced my German: “danke.”

View of Frankfurt from my hotel room

The flag of Germany just outside my hotel

Looking up at the Frankfurt Marriott

Frankfurt Marriott

At 2 p.m., the president of our representative office in Germany, Claasen Communications, picked me up from the hotel and drove me to a media appointment in Darmstradt. Then, we went to the Claasen office so I could meet their fantastic staff.

Claasen Communications office

The staff at Claasen

Me at the Claasen office

We returned to the Marriott to meet the rest of our delegation and after a few more meetings, we went to dinner in Frankfurt at Villa Leonhardi. This was built in 1806 and was the home of a wealthy family of merchants. Over the years it was re-built and today is an Italian restaurant. The menu was written in both German and English and we noticed they used the word “lauwarm” or “lukewarm” to describe many dishes. Lukewarm rabbit. Lukewarm seafood. Lukewarm cake. It just isn’t a culinary term Americans would typically use. Or a way you’d want your food prepared necessarily. But, this became something of a running joke since it showed up on almost every menu we saw. Must be lost in translation….

At Villa Leonhardi

My dinner prepared table-side

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I was so disoriented that when I placed one foot in the bathtub, it slipped out from under me and I did a slow-motion fall….which would’ve been terribly embarassing had anyone seen it happen. Fortunately, the only evidence was a giant bruise on my leg. As I limped to breakfast (in the business woman’s secret VIP lounge), I spilled my hot tea across the table. I blame jet lag.

Today, we spent the morning conducting training sessions with tour operators. And fortunately, my morning bad luck streak did not seem to last. All went very smoothly. In the afternoon, we checked out of the Marriott and took taxis to the Frankfurt Central Station train terminal. We boarded our train for the two-hour journey to Hannover.

The Europaturm or telecommunications tower in Frankfurt

On the way to the Frankfurt train station

A vendor at the Frankfurt train station (this just seemed SO German)

Silhouette of the name of a major German newspaper at the train station

Matt (President and CEO of Capital Region USA) and me on the train to Hannover

The Town Hall of Hannover

Wiener Schnitzel

The giant baked potato

Check out the size of this potato! It looks more like a subway sandwich. And how about that vat of sour cream? 😉

The view from the hotel in Hannover

Thursday, February 23, 2012

We were up very early to check out of the hotel and take the 7:30 a.m. train to Dusseldorf. It’s cold and rainy and overcast today. And early! We made the mistake of boarding the train at the wrong end of the platform. So, we had to walk through five train cars or so, with all of our luggage, to get to our seats. A man had a container of sliced apples on the edge of this tray. My colleague’s luggage accidentally bumped the tray and the apples fell to the ground. I happened to be walking immediately behind her and walked right into it. She kept on walking since she didn’t realize she had bumped his tray. I stood there with apples at my feet as the man cursed at me in German in front of the entire car of commuters. I apologized profusely until he said, “You’re not sorry!” I said, “No, really. I am!” And when he wouldn’t accept my apology, I rolled my suitcase over his apples and continued on. Someone needs coffee….

Our train to Dusseldorf arriving at the Hannover station

Two and a half hours later, we arrived in Dusseldorf. We conducted a training session with a tour operator and then we went to lunch at this charming little Italian restaurant down the street from their office. (Funny how much italian food we’re eating in Germany…). I can’t recall the name of the restaurant but I’m pretty sure it was La Bora on Huettenstrasse. A barking dog greeted us at the door. The food was incredible and it was entertaining to hear an Italian man speaking perfect German.

No sooner had we arrived in Dusseldorf than we were back on the train en route to Frankfurt. No overnight stay. No time to explore. But from the little bit I saw, I’d love to revisit Dusseldorf again in the future. In Frankfurt, we checked back into the Frankfurt Marriott. I immediately had some media appointments and then we ended the mission with a big farewell dinner party with many of the media and operators we had met with, and a few new faces. I departed the next day for the return trip to Washington, DC. It was a whirlwind of a trip but certainly a success.

An ad in German for the American film “Bridesmaids” (Hannover)

An ad for Germany’s Next Top Model (Dusseldorf train station)

Next stop, Toronto….

Meeting the President of the United States

It’s been awhile since my last blog post and I have a lot of catching up to do. Over the last four months, I’ve traveled to Germany, Scotland, England, Canada and Brazil. Those trips were all in the name of business, of course, but since it was my first visit to all (except England) they deserve their own blog posts. And I plan to do so. But first…

I had a very fascinating experience right here in Washington, DC in April, almost exactly 7 months to the day that I arrived in DC. I’ve been asked by several people to blog about it. It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime event, so for the sake of posterity, here goes:

It was Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012. As I do every Easter, I had planned to go to church. I’ve been going to St. John’s Episcopal Church since I moved here. It’s nicknamed The President’s Church because every US President since James Madison in 1816 has attended church here at some point. And for good reason: it’s located directly across from The White House, separated only by Lafayette Square. My friend Jocelyn has been blessed to see the Obamas there at least twice, as well as both George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. at different times.

I had been told that the 11 a.m. service tends to fill up quickly and the church usually has to turn people away. So, I planned to arrive an hour early to guarantee I could get in. As I arrived at 10 a.m. on the Metro, and turned the corner onto H Street, I knew something important was happening. About 20 Secret Service officers were surrounding the entrance to the church. They all wore dark suits with earpieces and a small circular lapel pin indicating secret service. Disappointed, I figured the President was inside the church already for the 9 a.m. service. I missed him again! At the entrance, the usher handed me a program. “The 9 a.m. service is still going on, so you might want to sit in the Parish Hall and have some coffee while you wait,” he said. “Oh, and if I were you, I’d get in there pretty quickly. The President is coming to the 11 a.m. service.”

I smiled, thanked the usher and remained calm. But inside, I was so excited. Giddy, actually. I didn’t miss him after all. I quickly entered through the side door and into the Parish Hall. It was virtually empty and I kept expecting the Secret Service to approach me and ask me to wait outside. But they never did. As the 9 a.m. service ended and the people filed out, they brought in the bomb-sniffing dogs to sweep the church. The handful of us who were waiting in the Parish Hall were scanned by metal detecting wands by the Secret Service. And then, we were the first ones allowed into the sanctuary.

The President has a special pew reserved just for him. It’s about 10 rows from the alter and has a bronze plate indicating it as such. The row in front of it and behind it had reserved signs. And the rows across the aisle had reserved signs. But the row exactly across the aisle from the presidential pew was empty and had no signs. I figured this had to be a mistake. If I sat there, I’m sure Secret Service would ask me to move – if I extended my arm out across the aisle, the President and I could touch. I took the risk and sat there anyway. I saved two seats next to me for Jocelyn and her friend who were on their way. I didn’t know, however, that poor Jocelyn had been turned away at the entrance due to capacity.

The Presidents’ Pew at St. John Episcopal Church

Surprisingly, nobody asked me to move. The church filled up to capacity. And just before the service started, the Obamas – Barack, Michelle, Sacha and Malia – entered through a side door to a standing ovation. Then they walked towards me and filed into the Presidential Pew. I couldn’t believe it. President Obama was right next to me, separated only by an aisle. And all eyes were on him. Except mine because I didn’t want to be obvious and gawk at this proximity. Secret Service occupied the pew directly behind him. And the rest of the reserved pews were family and friends of the Obamas including the ones behind me.

And there we were having church together. I was so close I could hear his voice in the collective responses to the Reverend. Just after the Sermon and the Prayers of the People, there came The Peace. This is essentially where you greet your neighbor with a “peace be with you” and a handshake. I greeted those in the pew directly ahead of me and those behind me. And then in happened…

President Obama turned towards me and stepped out into the aisle at the exact same time that I turned towards him. He extended his arm and said “Happy Easter! And peace be with you.” I shook his hand and repeated his words back to him. I was surprised how warm his hand was and how his whole demeanor exuded warmth. He struck me as thinner than I imagined and tall, but not as tall as I imagined either. He graciously shook hands with those around me.

We continued on with Holy Communion. Since we were separated by an aisle, I took communion off to the side while the Obamas went to the alter. However, on the way back to our pews we ended up walking side by side. I smiled at Sacha and she smiled right back at me. Michelle saw this and nodded towards me. She said “Happy Easter” as I took my seat. I watched as the congregation filed past their pew and smiled and nodded at the President and his family. The choir led the singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah” towards the end of the service and I had to admit it was the perfect song to describe what I was feeling.

As the final song “Welcome Happy Morning” was sung, I tried to figure out a plan to take a photo of the President and his family. My big plan was to have my iPhone ready as soon as the service ended and sneak a photo as the President shook hands with people. But, of course, Secret Service escorted the President out of the church during the song and I missed my big chance. I still hold onto hope that the church photographer managed to click a picture of the President …. and maybe somewhere there’s a glimpse of me across the aisle.

A view of the alter of the church

 

A Tourist in my New Town

I moved to Washington, DC at the end of summer when temperatures were still in the 80s and the air was thick with humidity. Air conditioning was a must during the day, but at night the temperature dropped to a comfortable, almost-need-a-sweater degree. The worst part about dusk was that the mosquitos came out. I haven’t been around mosquitos in years and they sensed it. I was attacked nightly. I’m not sure if it’s worse because I live on the waterfront or if it’s like this all across DC, but they loved me. Between my giant frizzy hair and the red welts all over my body, I was certainly a sight to see.

The Waterfront Metro Station

My first big adventure was navigating the DC Metro system. I tested it the day before I had to go into work. The Waterfront Metro Station next door to my apartment is on the Green Line, which is a straight shot to Chinatown where my office is located. On most days, I can get to the office in less than 15 minutes which is the best commute to work I’ve ever had. My first impression of the Metro was that it reminded me of the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. It even smelled like that ride, which made me quite nostalgic.

The domed building is where my office is housed

Chinatown Arch

At the office

The best part about moving to a new city is that every day is new. I see something or experience something new, which makes it more like being on a permanent vacation. On day one of my job, I was already overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to see and do in this city. Luckily, I had several opportunities to immerse myself in it – a company retreat with my communications colleagues and hosting a group of German and UK media during two weeks in October. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let these images speak for themselves:

Me in front of the U.S. Capitol Building

On a City Segway Tour of the Monuments (super fun!)

Me and the Marketing & Communications team on a segway tour

A View of the White House from the POV Lounge at W Hotel. A closer look will reveal two secret service agents on the White House roof

Me on a Bike and Roll Tour of the Monuments

The FDR Memorial

The new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial at night (best time to see it)

Me at Ford's Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated

President Lincoln's balcony at Ford's Theatre

Korean War Memorial

Location where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

WWII Memorial

The White House

President Lincoln's Cottage

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - Arlington Cemetery

Changing of the Guards - Arlington Cemetery

Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street - A favorite of Bill Cosby and President Obama

My favorite picture of the Washington Monument

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