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Travel Tips: Blossoms beautiful, while they last

There are a few wonderful things in this world that do not last a long time. One would be a rainbow, another enjoying a delectable dessert. A third is definitely the cherry blossoms in Washington. What you need to do is finish reading this travel piece, then head to the door, into your car and straight to the tidal basin. I'll keep it short.

These magnificent flowers, a gift in 1912 (making this the 100th anniversary) from Japan celebrating the growing friendship between the two countries, has a life of maybe three weeks. If there is a heavy rain or high winds, less. Japan gave the U.S, exactly 3,020 of the flowers of varying species. The most common is Yoshino. I do believe there are 12 species. The first blossom was planted by First Lady Helen Taft.

Washington makes a big deal out of these flowers. Firstly it turns West Potomac Park into a beautiful area, and secondly, they actually have a month's long Cherry Blossom Festival (through April 25). This includes parties and a major parade. The very first festival was in 1935. It usually attracts about 700,000 visitors, good for the economy. (nationalcherryblossomfestival.org)

The most obvious attraction around the tidal basin is the Jefferson Memorial. He, of course, was our third president. The building was completed in 1943 and the statue was added in 1947. The memorial is ranked fourth on the America's Favorite Architecture list. John Pope was the primary architect. He actually prepared four different plans each on a different site. The tidal basin was eventually chosen because of its prominent location. The site was originally a bit controversial but later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

President Roosevelt was disturbed there was no memorial for Jefferson in Washington so it was his insistence that a memorial was planned in the first place. He asked the Commission of Fine Arts to begin the process of finding a location.

The statue inside is 19 feet high, weighs 10,000 pounds and has him facing the White House. On the inside walls are excerpts from some of his writings. The memorial is open 24 hours.

My suggestion is to take a stroll around the tidal basin, it's about a mile and three fourths. As you stroll in a clockwise direction from Jefferson you'll run into the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. He was our 32nd president. This memorial was dedicated in 1997 and consists of 7.5 acres of statues and his speeches along with peaceful waterfalls. The memorial traces the 12 years of his presidency. There are four outdoor rooms, one for each of his terms.

There was quite a bit of discussion about whether or not he should be shown in a wheelchair, he did have polio and was our only president with a disability. You can look at the chair he's in and decide whether or not it's a wheelchair. The site is open 24 hours and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Continuing your walk you next will run into the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. This covers four acres and was dedicated in October of 2011. It took two decades of planning, fund raising and construction. King is the fourth non-president to be memorialized in such a manner. His statue is 30 feet high and was made in China to save money.

All the statues are terrific but I think I enjoyed the simple pleasure of looking at the calm blue water of the tidal basin the most. Basically it's an artificial inlet of the Potomac River linking the river with the northern end of the Washington channel. It is ten feet at its deepest point. You can bring food for a picnic on the grounds or there are concessions. There are also paddle boats for rent. That looked like too much work. Sitting and people watching are enough exercise for me.

There are of course many ways to get into Washington. If your brain is not working at all you can decide to drive in. Good luck with that. I decided to grab a MARC train at Penn Station ($7 round trip for seniors) to Union Station. From there you take the Metro to the Smithsonian stop, with one change of trains at Metro Centre, walk out of the station and proceed about four blocks to the basin. The walk will take you along the National Mall where you'll find many of the Smithsonian museums.

One final thought about the cherry blossoms, their extreme beauty and quick death has often been associated with mortality. For that reason they are richly symbolic and represented on all manner of consumer goods in Japan.



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