Date of Trip: April 2009
Last weekend SO and I braved the crowds to visit Washington D.C. during its annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. I had seen the cherry blossoms before about six years ago, and I remembered how beautiful they looked along the Tidal Basin and in front of the Washington Monument.
What I had conveniently forgotten was the sheer mob of people that visit D.C. at this time of year! If I could give one bit of advice to anyone who wants to see the city’s cherry blossoms, it would be this: go on a weekday…
But let me start at the beginning. SO and I took the Metro to get into the city because we got off to a late start and knew we would never find parking anywhere near the Mall. We didn’t realize that parking would be nearly as hard to find at the Metro stations, however. The first station we visited, Van Dorn, had a pretty small lot that was completely full when we arrived. We joined a handful of other vehicles circling the lot like vultures, hoping for someone else to leave, but after about 15 fruitless minutes of that we gave up and headed for greener pastures.
We had better luck at the Pentagon City station, which is surrounded by malls and shopping outlets and thus has plenty of (paid) parking. As a bonus, we were able to grab lunch here as well (since we’d worked up an appetite driving around in circles all morning!) before we jumped onto a train into the city.
We poured off the train at the Smithsonian station with a teeming mob of humanity and emerged onto the Mall, where unusually strong winds had us immediately raising our hands to shield our eyes from flying dirt and dust. (Other, more enterprising folks attempted to fly kites.)
We snapped a quick photo of the Capitol Building before starting our walk down toward the Washington Monument and the Tidal Basin. The biggest crowds clustered around the cherry trees near the base of the Washington Monument (everyone — including me! — seemed to be trying to take the perfect picture of the Monument with blossoms in the foreground), along the Tidal Basin (there were food kiosks nearby) and the Jefferson Memorial. The relatively new World War II Memorial seemed to be a hot spot as well.
After an hour or two we were cranky from fighting the crowds, so we headed back up to the Mall to visit another of D.C.’s newer attractions, the National Museum of the American Indian. But before we got there we stumbled upon a small, lovely garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. I’ve been to D.C. many times before and never seen this particular garden, but I really enjoyed it — particularly the magnolia trees in full flower. I can’t say we had the garden to ourselves, but it was definitely less crowded than other parts of the Mall, and we felt much less cranky after we spent a little time there.
We finally reached the American Indian museum a little before 4 p.m. — not enough time to visit all the exhibits, but admission was free so we figured we’d go in and see what we could. Honestly, I had no idea how enormous the museum actually was; in the hour or so that we spent there, we only made it through part of one floor (and there are four floors total). We enjoyed what we did see: a short film about Native Americans across North and South America, a number of in-depth exhibits about the philosophies and belief systems of different Native American tribes, and several displays about the rather depressing history of European/Native American interaction. I liked that the museum included photos and bios of the Native American individuals who helped put various exhibits together; it put a human face on some of the artifacts on display, and showed that the museum was not only about Native Americans but also created by them.
SO and I had hoped to grab a snack at the museum cafe, which apparently offers traditional Native American dishes rather than the usual boring fast food or sandwiches you find at many museums, but we got there just after closing time. Oh well … something to go back for!