Through the door and laden with luggage strides Aunt Minnie, and expectant gleam lighting her eye. Her first visit to The Nation's Capital! Visions of monuments and museums dance through her head.
And once again, you don the cap of tour guide. Time for another foot-numbing trek through the Smithsonian's hallowed halls, another ascent of the Washington Monument, another journey through Arlington Cemetery's tombstone territory. Once again, you'll join the anonymous crowd standing haunch to paunch to gaze upward at the Capital Rotunda.
But it needn't be that way, say Washington's professional tour guides. Let Aunt Minnie see the famous sites with any number of group tours. Then take her yourself to some off-the-beaten-track spots. The pros have favorite places where they take their own Aunt Minnies for a special view of Washington.
Caroline Turner, who conducts tours in French and Italian for Guide Service of Washington, draws on her credentials as a Washington native for a fresh perspective on sightseeing.
"The place I remember most from my girlhood was the Medical Museum that was on the Mall. Our parents would drop us at the Smithsonian on Saturday morning, assured we would spend the day looking at the Wright Brothers' plane.But as soon as they were out of sight, we headed for trhe Medical Museum to look at such wonderful things as Gen. Sickle's leg, which was amputated at Gettysburg, and a two-headed fetus. Now, they've moved the Museum to Walter Reed Hospital.
"Also in the 1930s, the big thing was seeing the Adams Monument, called Grief , in Rock Creek Cemetery," she says, "This isn't such a sentimental age now, but we stop to see it occasionally."
"I think Gunston Hall in Virginia is greatly neglected by tourists and is perfectly beautiful. In the spring, the gardens are divine. And I wouldn't dream of not taking my guests to the Phillips Collection and to Dumbarton Oaks."
Turner takes her adventurous guests to the Alexandria Farmers' Market, held about 5 a.m. each Saturday.
"If I have litte boys in tow, I always take them to the Navy Memorial Museum at the Navy Yard. It's full of things that they can hardly tear themselves away from, everything to do with ships and submarines," says Turner.
"The very first thing I do with my guests is take them to see the city at night," says Harriet Schwartz, one of the owners of Washington Whirl-Around. "The monuments are just breathtaking, and it's good for all ages."Then in the summer, I take my friends to the Marine Barracks on Friday night for the best show in town, the Sunset Parade performance by the Marine Band and the Drum and Bugle Corps. It's very moving and just spectacular.
"I'll also take them shopping in Old Town Alexandria and to the Torpedo Factory there, where about 200 artists show their work," says Schwartz.
Guests of Ralph Webb, manager and tour guide for Spirit of '76 Tours, see Washington by water. He launches a boat near National Airport, then shows off the city in leisurely fashion from the Potomac. Ashore, he takes visitors to the Washington Cathedral and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, through Embassy Row to the Islamic Mosque, past homes of the famous in Georgetown and to historic Old Town.
Nelly Kerr, also with the Guide Service, escorts her visitors to the Woodrow Wilson House, filled with memorabilia of President Wilson's last years.
"I could spend half a day at the Congressional Cemetery with its elaborate tombstones," she says. "As one congressman said, they add a new terror to death.
"Washington Cathedral is always fascinating, and now they have a brass-rubbing exhibit. These are duplicates of memorial brasses that mark graves inside English churches. For a small fee, you can make rubbings from them."
Carol Ostrow of Central Tours likes to localize her personal sightseeing tours. She'll take friends on a plantation tour, including Mount Vernon, Sully Plantation, Woodlawn and Gunston Hall.
In the Dupont Circle area, they'll tour the P Street galleries, the brooding, gargoyled Christian Heurich Memorial Gallery and the Anderson House.
"The Anderson House was once one of the most expensive homes ever built in Washington. It is breathtakingly beautiful," Ostrow says.
Her outlook on sightseeing holds true for amateur guides as well as pros: "I take people where I like to go - where I am fascinated."