Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bloom watch, the National Cherry Blossom Festival

Washington, D.C. is a sightseer’s smorgasbord. From monuments to museums, spaceships to ruby slippers, landmarks to legislative bodies, the city is awash in historic and fascinating attractions. But once a year, the sights that bloom are D.C.’s most unforgettable. 

Every spring the cherry trees scattered around America’s capital burst into life, sending vibrant shades of pink showering over the white marble monuments. They draw massive crowds from all over, who gather around the Washington and Jefferson monuments around mid-April to experience this annual natural wonder.

The timing is somewhat of a guessing game each year, typically falling early to mid-April but varying from a number of factors. Nevertheless, when the cherry blossoms arrive, the city takes on new life.

Washington, D.C. celebrates the arrival of spring each year with an annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which in 2014 runs through April 13. Throughout the celebration are family days, a parade, a road race, a kite festival and a fireworks display. But the main attraction is, of course, the famous cherry blossoms. The faux petals draping every storefront and restaurant signals that the cherry blossom effect is all-encompassing. 

Well-placed signs and notices let you know where the best viewing is and help guide visitors around the city. Flower lovers will find the experience mesmerizing and photographers are as close to heaven as they can get. But everyone, from adults to children, is transported to another world when walking through the cherry blossoms.

As soon as you emerge from one of the National Mall’s nearby subway stops (and taking the Metro subway is a smart idea with large crowds around the city), a whimsical atmosphere abounds. Underneath the massive Washington Monument burst white and pink-hued flowering trees. They welcome onlookers and urge them to continue further into the surreal setting.

Once across to the Tidal Basin, a body of water ringed by a pathway and several national monuments, the entire world is engrossed by overarching branches laded with magenta petals. The Jefferson Memorial shimmers in the background and if you make your way around to it, offers an astounding view of the trees.

Cherry blossom season all the senses are pricked. Springtime aromas mix with the buzz and hum of awed tourists. And before Washington's infamous humidity hits later in summer, this time of year typically offers visitors a comfortable springtime climate. The sights themselves are a visual feast. The natural beauty of the trees juxtaposes with the manmade monuments and buildings. It is a springtime awakening in every way.

For an even more astounding view, visit the Tidal Basin at dusk. The pool reflects the setting sun and the colorful trees, which in turn infuses the pinkish-white blossoms with an amber glow.

Despite the beautiful scenery, some D.C. locals will take a negative view of cherry blossom season, mostly because of the enormous crowds of tourists the trees draw to the city. Crowds can be overwhelming, as the most awe-inspiring viewing is in a relatively small area. But if D.C.’s large crowds are a turnoff, there are other options for viewing the cherry blossoms.

The Kenwood neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland, a short car ride outside of Washington, is lined with the same type of cherry trees that circle the Tidal Basin. It is a treasure-trove of blossoms in a much different setting. They line this residential neighborhood, which in its own right can get crowded with visitors at peak season. But for many, this setting is more serene in its suburban enclave. And for much smaller crowds, the National Arboretum in Northeast D.C. is an excellent and free stop, boasting its own selection of beautiful cherry trees plus a bevy of other natural sights.

Regardless of where you see them, or the size of the crowds, a trip to Washington, D.C. in April is worthwhile for anyone who wants to see some natural beauty. The D.C. cherry blossoms are certainly a sight to behold.