If you've been moaning that you never left "boring old Washington" this summer, maybe it's time you saw our city through a visitor's eyes.
Maressa de Melo Santos is 9 and lives in central Brazil. She spent three weeks here last month visiting her aunt and uncle, who live a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Things ho-hum to most Washington area kids were big deals to her.
Maressa crisscrossed the city in search of new adventures. She found them in places such as the zoo and the museums on the Mall. She had her picture taken by the White House and took a boat ride on the Potomac. She rode Metro a lot, too.
The most difficult part of her visit was the language barrier. Brazil is a former colony of Portugal, and its people speak Portuguese. Maressa knows some English, but not enough to carry on a conversation. She did learn a few useful English phrases, including "please" and "the pasta is very good."
Maressa said she'll never forget the priceless works of art at the National Gallery. "Every painting has a different story and they're all so interesting," she said. Her favorite: John Singleton Copley's "Watson and the Shark," which shows the dramatic rescue of a teenage boy from the jaws of a hungry shark.
Even the trip from her home in Goiania, about 4,300 miles from Washington, was an adventure. It was her first plane ride and her first time outside Brazil. She traveled with her grandmother for nearly 24 hours to get here!
In Brazil and the rest of South America, it's winter now. Maressa traveled during her school's winter break, but when she got off the plane here it was summer.
Although this was the longest she had ever been away from her mom, Maressa didn't get too homesick. "I missed everything about home but I didn't get sad," she said. "I was too busy sightseeing and playing."
Of all the places she visited, her favorite was the National Zoo, where she saw a family of giraffes, an exhibit on the Amazon rain forest (some of which is in Brazil) and the much-loved pandas.
"I really wanted to see the pandas, they're so beautiful," she said.
Maressa didn't spend her entire vacation in Washington. Her aunt and uncle took her to New York City, where she strolled through Central Park and saw Rockefeller Center.
She also went to the New Jersey seashore and saw the ocean for the first time. Although Brazil has a long coastline and world-famous beaches, Maressa's home city lies deep in the interior, about 130 miles from the capital, Brasilia.
What did she think of the beach? "I didn't expect such strong waves, and I didn't think the water would be so salty."
Aside from the memory of one bad hornet sting (amazingly, a bowl of ice cream made the hurt go away!), Maressa's mental scrapbook was filled with happy images as she headed home. She's back in fourth grade at her school, Colegio Goyazes, but is already planning her next visit to Washington.
"I would like to return to learn even more English and to see the pandas one more time," she said.
-- Michael T. Shepard
the sights in Washington and New York with her aunt, Sonia de Assis, and grandmother, Valdivina de Melo.