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Europe without jet-lag: take your family to Saturday’s embassy open house

Pack your snack bags, kids. We’re going to Europe!

This Saturday, May 12, is one of my favorite spring traditions in D.C.: the annual European Union Open House. For one magical day, the E.U. embassies open their gates and we can walk through English gardens, savor Belgian chocolates, and watch Spanish dance.  It’s a great day to be a parent in Washington, DC — as long as you come prepared.

Dancers at the Spanish Cultural Center at the 2017 E.U. Open House.

Make a travel plan, then edit it

You don’t have to entertain a toddler on a transatlantic flight to get to these destinations. But you will need to plan for traffic, scarce parking, and long lines. Treat this like a family road trip and chart your course. Consult this map or download the E.U. events app.

But don’t go thinking you’ll hit all the locations on the map. Your best bet, especially with kids, is to choose a region of the city and try to hit one or two nearby embassies.

Most of the embassies are open from 10 am to 4 pm. (Portugal closes early. Last admission is 1:30 pm.)  But many have long lines by midday. If you want to go to one of the more popular embassies — like Germany and France, the U.K., Finland, or Belgium — put it first on your agenda.

You don’t need an actual passport to visit, but some embassies do ask for identification. There are some free samples of food and beverage, but you may want cash on hand to buy larger plates of food. 

The author’s son plays Sjoelen, Dutch shuffleboard, at the 2017 open house.

Choose your adventure

The bigger embassies basically offer their own mini-festivals for the day.  For instance, Germany and France will co-host together at the French Embassy. On tap: German beer, French champagne, photo ops, face-painting, balloon animals, and mini golf stations, where you can practice your swing in honor of the 2018 Ryder Cup.

The United Kingdom (still a part of Europe, at least for now), sells food and drink and offers tours of the ambassador’s beautiful English gardens. And the staff has a decent sense of humor if you happen to be traveling with a loud child who is still very much stuck in the American Revolution. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

The Czech Embassy will have a bounce house, face-painting, and demonstrations from Czech-bred dogs. And if you’ve got Lego fans (don’t we all?), you may want to head to the Embassy of Denmark, where kids are invited to help build a giant LEGO statue. Denmark will also host a kids’ bicycling track and opportunities for a selfie with a Viking.

Be prepared to change your itinerary

Plan ahead, for sure. But as on any journey with children, be prepared to pitch that plan in the rubbish bin.

When we hit the E.U. open house with my 3-year-old, he had a singular focus for the day: “Get embassy chocolate.”

We spent the morning at the Embassy of Finland, an amazing building with forest views. But no chocolate. By the time we made it to the Embassy of Belgium — famous for its beer and chocolate –the line was several blocks long.

Belgian chocolate is delicious, but decidedly less so after standing in a long line with a toddler. So I scrambled and found a discarded piece of Easter candy in a pocket of my diaper bag. I told him it was “embassy chocolate,” and we went to a nearby playground to eat it. 

It was, admittedly, his favorite “embassy” of the day.

The “Selfie Platz” at the German Embassy open house.

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