Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tourist Tuesday: Cherry Blossoms

It's only fitting that I write a Tourist Tuesday about the Cherry Blossoms since this year marks the 100th Anniversary of Japan's gift of the cherry blossom trees to the U.S. to celebrate the growing friendship between the two nations. In 1912, 3,000 cherry trees were gifted from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. First Lady Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park (around where the FDR and MLK Memorials are now). (Actually, a first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but just two years later new trees arrived and were planted.) These are the trees that now turn the Tidal Basin into a cloud of pink each spring!

Over the last 100 years, the cherry blossom trees have become staple attraction in DC, probably just as notable as some of the monuments and museums. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which has been taking place since 1927, celebrates the gift of these trees, the Japanese and American friendship, and springtime in Washington! Usually the Festival lasts 2 weeks, but because this year is the 100th anniversary the festival is 5 weeks long (March 20 - April 27)!! Chris and I have never attended the Festival events, because while the cherry blossoms are gorgeous, I cannot stand the crowds, but, there is always a lot of fun stuff going on, such as a 10k race, a parade, and daily activities.

The Festival usually coincides with the trees' bloom (thanks to the National Park Service's predictions), however, because we had such an unseasonably warm winter, the cherry blossoms bloomed really early this year, like, two weeks ago-early. I'm definitely writing this post kinda late because some of the blooms are already being replaced by regular old green leaves. Oops! BUT, be sure to mark your calendars for next year's Festival!!

Like I said, Chris and I really don't like the Cherry Blossom crowds so we've only really walked around the Tidal Basin to take them in a couple of times. But, below are some photos I took of them two years ago (I think). The trees were right around peak bloom when I took these photos, but just google or flickr them and you'll see TONS of awesome photos of the trees, WAY better than these!




Now, like I hinted at, the Festival attracts over a million people every year. This is what some of that million usually looks like . . .



Looks like a lot of fun, right? Wrong (at least for us). If you are like us and would like to check out the Cherry Blossom trees but avoid the madhouse, here are my suggestions:
  1. Go early in the morning. Not only are there less crowds early in the morning, but sunrise at the Tidal Basin would be really pretty. I wouldn't know though, I've never gone ; )
  2. Go on a weekday or weeknight. Yes, there will still be the crowds of spring-breakers, but it won't be as bad as a weekend, I promise.
  3. I also promise that there won't be as many crowds on a cloudy or even rainy day, that's another good time to go if you don't mind getting a little wet.
  4. Avoid the Smithsonian and even the L'Enfant metro stations, but especially the Smithsonian station. They are like a cattle herd of lost tourists - crazy. Make it a day to get some exercise. Put on your walking shoes and walk from a further station. Archives/Navy Memorial is my go-to metro stop, probably because there is a Potbelly and Au Bon Pain right up the street from it, and it's on the yellow/green line where I live!
  5. Lastly, just skip the Tidal Basin all together and go to the National Arboretum. I think that's what we might do this weekend, or sometime this spring. The National Arboretum has a huge variety of cherry blossom trees, including late-flowering ones! It also has what is called "Azelea Hill,"which is apparently gorgeous and may not be around much longer.So, go there!
So, that's the scoop on the Cherry Blossoms from a "Washington-insider." Even though we really don't get into the Cherry Blossom hype, they are really truly pretty, and definitely something special to the DC area, whether you see them at the Tidal Basin, around the National Mall or the National Arboretum, or just see them scattered throughout the neighborhoods!

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