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The nations' capital is awash in a sea of white, pale pink and people during the month of April. Although the National Cherry Blossom Festival (www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org) officially ends on April 13, the trees themselves do not recognize calendar dates, so you are likely to still experience the beauty of Washington, D.C. in full bloom for a couple more weeks. April's weather can be a bit tricky. I just returned from a weekend where I experienced everything from balmy warm breezes and sunshine to freezing winds and constant spitting rain. My motto -- be prepared for all weather conditions -- and take the weather forecast with a grain of salt -- they totally got it wrong for my stay.
Despite rain, wind and frosty temperatures, I braved the elements and headed downtown. The first thing to be prepared for is the crowds. I won't sugar coat it. Getting off the Metro at Smithsonian Station (the closest point to the trees) is like battling a Yankees crowd after a playoff game (avoid some of the crowds by alighting at L'Enfant Plaza Station, 7th Street & Maryland Avenue exit instead -- an extra ten minute walk, though). But once you maneuver past the thousands of people on the platforms and escalators, you emerge from underground into the wide expanse of the Mall.
For people who may never have visited D.C. before, of those who just don't remember how beautiful the city is, the mall is truly a breathtaking location. Everywhere you look, you see monuments, imposing architecture and greenery. Apart from dodging photo takers, the trek down to the waterside is quite pleasant. I do however need to point out, that if you are not a walker, then getting to the cherry trees that line the Tidal Basin and stunningly overlook the Jefferson Memorial and the Potomac River, may be rather exhausting. For some reason, when they laid out the subway system in D.C., they overlooked the fact that people would actually want to visit the monuments and memorials. Distances are large and unless you take taxis, ride a bicycle (www.bikethesites.com) or get around on a segway (www.capitalsegway.com), you'll be spending several hours on your feet.
That aside, all the walking is rewarded with the spectacle of over three thousand delicate, fragrant and purely magnificent cherry trees. I know I may sound a little over the top, but we should be saying a huge thank you to the former Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki (1912) each and every season. Not only did he give this country a sensational gift, but in doing so he left a legacy that inevitably contributes to the economy of Washington, D.C. each and ever year when hundreds of thousands of additional tourists pour into the city. In fact, the city expects a million people to tread the hallowed ground of the Tidal Basin this spring.
Like almost everything in the capital, meandering through the trees and taking in the vistas is absolutely free. Alongside the procession of trees, the Target Tidal Basin Stage holds free performances daily beginning at noon. The Tidal Basin Stage plays host to a wide range of performances, from Japanese culture groups to local acoustic musicians. Some highlights for the closing weekend (Friday April 11 to Sunday April 13) include:
- Nova Jazz is an innovative, high-energy, dance performance company comprised of young adults -- 2pm Friday
- Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, Imajin Taiko and Hamaya Taiko -- a combination of performers from the U.S. and Okinawa, Japan dancing to Okinawan music while drumming -- 2:45pm Friday
- Furia Flamenca Flamenco dance company combining gypsy heritage with a modern touch -- 2:45pm Saturday
- O'Neill-James School of Irish Dance present modern and traditional Irish dance. -- 4:30pm Saturday
- Diafanes from Sao Paulo, Brazil -- a rock band that plays exotic instruments -- 1pm Sunday
- Chinese Martial Arts Institute demonstrating a variety of traditional and contemporary wushu forms -- 5:30pm Sunday
April 12 to be exact, is the culmination of the festival with the National Cherry Blossom parade. The Parade steps off at 10am and marches along historic Constitution Avenue between 7th and 17th Streets, NW. The parade boasts performances by celebrities, dance and Taiko drumming performance teams from Japan and the U.S., Cherry blossom queens from the US and Japan, tap dance teams, youth choirs, giant balloons, floats, horses, antique cars, clowns and mascots.
The blossoms aren't the only attractions in bloom during April. The Newseum (www.newseum.org) billed as the world's most interactive museum opens its doors on April 11, 2008. An architecturally dynamic building, it strangely reminded me of the Pompidou in Paris, without the bright colors. Visit on opening day for free and enjoy like musical performances and 250,000 square feet of exhibition space including the 9/11 Gallery (which examines media responses to the tragic day); the largest collection of Berlin Wall sections outside of Germany; 14 major galleries; 15 theatres and two broadcasting studios. Visiting after April 11 will cost you $20 for adults, $13 for kids seven to 12 and children six and under are free.
On April 15 to 17, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting D.C. so be prepared for a touch of papal grid-block on the streets For information about the papal procession in the pope-mobile and scheduled clergy-only appearances (at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Pope John Paul II Cultural Center) visit www.adw.org.
Hotels are busy in April but there are still rooms to be found and deals to be had. The Kimpton Hotel Group (www.kimptondchotels.com) has six centrally located properties in Washington D.C. area: Topaz Hotel (www.topazhotel.com), Hotel Palomar (www.hotelpalomar-dc.com) and Hotel Madera (www.hotelmadera.com) all located in Dupont Circle, The Hotel George (www.hotelgeorge.com) in the Capitol Hill area, Hotel Helix (www.hotelhelix.com) near Logan Circle, Hotel Rouge (www.rougehotel.com) on Embassy Row and the historic Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-dc.com) near the National Mall. Stay at any of the Kimpton hotels during the month of April and enjoy their Cherry Blossom package. Prices start as low as $169 on weekends and $269 on weekdays for rooms that can accommodate up to four people, making it an ideal option for families. The package includes deluxe accommodations, four all day Metro passes, complimentary parking and a 2008 Commemorative Cherry Blossom Poster bouquet. The package is available anytime through April 30, 2008 and must be booked at least 72 hours in advance. Taxes and gratuities not included. I just spent the weekend at The Hotel George which was a breath of fresh air. Rooms were spacious and luxurious, the location was quiet yet central and the staff's attention to detail and service was impeccable.
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