- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2011

A round-trip ticket to Europe normally has a four-digit price tag, but this weekend area residents were able to visit more than two dozen countries at no cost — though some entrance lines had a wait to rival the busiest airport security checkpoints.

The fifth annual European Union Open House welcomed thousands of people Saturday to the District’s Embassy Row, a roughly one-mile stretch of Massachusetts Avenue Northwest.

The open house kicked off Europe Week, which runs through Friday. The week will feature seminars, exhibits and concerts and other events around the city sponsored by embassies. More embassy open houses are scheduled for this coming Saturday during the Around the World Embassy Tour.

At the Greek Embassy, the promise of authentic food and the sounds of upbeat clapping from dancing children were enough to lure guests to stand in a line that wrapped around the block.

“This is what this whole country is based on,” said Zoe Kosmidou, counselor of cultural affairs for the Embassy of Greece. “It’s a closeness, an authenticity and also an openness to everybody to come to our home.”

Across the street, the Irish Embassy had a sizable line of its own, though Irish step dancers and members of the Washington, D.C., Gaels Gaelic Athletic Association kept the waiting guests entertained.

While the District might not have as large an Irish-American population as New York or Boston, “I do notice people are very proud of their Irish heritage,” said Myles Geiran, spokesman for the Irish Embassy.

Una Galligan, a spokeswoman for Tourism Ireland who brought stacks of maps and glossy albums of the Emerald Isle, agreed, saying that a majority of the people who came up to her during the open house had “tracing-their-ancestors kind of questions.”

Stopping for a break in the shade, Antonio Aguilar of Woodbridge, Va., said he came out for the open house because he has lived in the area for only two months and wanted to see what the city had to offer.

“I’ve driven up and down this street a couple times, but it’s nice to see the different dances and food. It gives me the opportunity to see these magnificent structures, go inside and see other people,” Mr. Aguilar said.

The British Embassy was easily the most crowded venue of the day. Guests made their way through the ambassador’s private gardens in the rear of the residence and out to the main courtyard, where they could pose for a photograph in a red telephone booth or see a replica of the dining room decor used at the royal wedding reception last month.

Philip Barton, deputy chief of mission for the British Embassy, said the open house “has been a part of what has really been a positive position between the U.K. and the U.S.”

“It’s symbols like this in these instances, of people coming through the gate for a little bit of the U.K. in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s positive and it’s good.”

Eva Horelova, spokeswoman for the European Union, credited the United States’ active role in so many international events as the reason why so many area residents turned out for the day’s events.

“Today is all about how we cooperate together and our cultures,” she said.