Short-Term Excursions

Map, Navigate, Explore, AdventureMost vacations fall into a routine of summer or year-end excursions preceded by long-term planning. However, for a brief break to fit into a hectic work schedule or a more restricted budget, short-term trips nearby or as an add-on to a business trip can be a real tonic.
Longing for a”spring break” but unable to get away, I charted my holiday around a weekend at my home town of Washington, DC. No longer still only a government-focused nation’s capital, the city has diversified. It’s currently a culturally rich destination with numerous options beyond just visiting the national monuments.
My break happened to coincide with one of those terrific spring attractions: the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It first started in 1935 following a gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo. It has grown to be a three-week long party. The festivities end with a parade of highly decorated floats carrying Cherry Blossoms Princesses while lively high school bands lead the way.
Even though the weather can be a chilly 50 degrees and raining, for 2014 it was a glorious 75-80 degree day with no humidity, perfect for a walk the length of the parade route. Along with an estimated audience of 100,000 of spectators, 5 US Presidents were in the parade or their stand-in’s were in sports jersey bearing their government’s number. Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were the most recognizable but were also joined by Teddy Roosevelt and Taft, the latter known for creating a permanent White House connection with baseball. In keeping with the spirit of this celebration, some spectators joined in the fun wearing their own outfits, such as in one case tee shirts together with pink tutu’s.
Underscoring the international character of present-day Washington, street vendors offered a selection of cuisine from Korean Kimchi to Punjabi fare. The worldwide flavor was underscored by Chinese dances and the Japanese-American block-long street fair.
I made my way walking the full length of the Mall parade route but without getting to the Tidal Basin, itself, the starting point for the Festival. However, the Washington Monument grounds provide a competing collection of the bright pink blossoms while multiple side streets in the commercial and residential districts have their own cherry blossom line-up. However, the area has been steadily decreasing with the coming of urban development. However, still remaining are several top restaurants featuring lunch specials as well as a few small stores with authentic local flavor, such as the New Da Hsin Trading Inc.. It carries some of the exact wares I saw in Beijing with costs competitive with the street sellers in China. There are tin cans of supermarket items that I can only guess as to their contents and brightly colored screens with imperial dragons. I am always intrigued by the special items they take like umbrellas with UV protection (parasols?)
Rounding out the weekend’s contrasting holiday was a really different offering on Sunday in neighboring Leesburg/Northern Virginia. The popular event was the annual horserace at the Oatlands Plantation, the spring Point-to-Point, a design for the Loudoun Hunt. Oatlands, the background for the race, includes on its grounds a stunning mansion started in 1803 and open to the public as a National Historic Landmark.
With this kind of action-packed weekend, I found that a short-term excursion, whether in our own backyards or overseas, can be a excellent filler between annual vacations. The price was right and no long-term planning was needed!

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