Spring’s the best time to visit Washington, D.C.

The Jefferson Memorial is framed with Japanese cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in Washington. The Cherry Blossom Festival began Thursday and continues through April 13.

With the weather finally getting warmer, it is time to visit DC.  Here is a great source by roanoke
Spring is the optimal time to visit Washington, D.C., when festival season kicks off with three weeks of prime viewing of the celebrated cherry blossoms, which continues through April 13.

I received an invitation from the Melrose Hotel near Georgetown to meet its chef and try its farm-to-fork cuisine in its restaurant, Jardenea.

Unable to schedule a spring visit, and noting that the Melrose is in walking distance to all the places my husband and I wanted to visit, we booked our room and two tickets on Amtrak and made our way to the District in late February. We were blessed with a cold but dry weekend visit.

Home base

The Melrose, an eight-story hotel built in 1960 but renovated 18 months ago, offers 240 rooms — 129 with king-sized beds, 74 with double beds and 35 suites, including a presidential suite with its own outdoor entertainment patio. The hotel is in easy walking distance of the Kennedy Center, making it a favorite destination for visitors of that venue.

Our seventh-floor suite was spacious and comfortable; the decor is contemporary and chic. The lobby area features comfortable nooks for conversation, a library for guests to peruse and a bar area with a view of Pennsylvania Avenue. The staff was enthusiastic and friendly; the service we enjoyed at the hotel was outstanding.

Pedestrian sightseeing

Despite temperatures near freezing, we wanted to experience the city on foot, using cabs sparingly through the weekend.

Our seven-block jaunt from the hotel to the White House required a stop at a street vendor to buy hats. After seeing the center of executive power through iron gates, we ended up a block away at White House Gifts.

The kitschy store is a mix of souvenirs from elegant to tacky. Visitors are allowed to take their own photos at an oversized desk in front of a painted backdrop of the Oval Office.

Museums

We visited only one — Newseum — a must-see for any news junkie.

Newseum evokes a range of emotions. Inspirational quotes about the First Amendment and protecting liberty through a free press adorn the walls. Most of the exhibits are sobering. A permanent exhibit about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 include copies of front pages from every state and around the world, twisted remains of the towers and the planes that brought them down.

After a brisk walk to the Capitol, we started our long stroll through the National Mall. Despite shivering under our coats, hats and scarves, I imagined green grass replacing the dormant blades, the grimy piles of snowplow slush washed away by spring rain. The tightly closed brown pods, visible on almost every barren cherry tree limb, would soon burst with fragrant pink and white blooms.

The Washington Monument is still off limits, the lower base surrounded by scaffolding as repairs continue from the 2011 earthquake. After seeing the World War II memorial, we marched past the now-empty reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial.

On our way to see Thomas Jefferson’s majestic statue, we stopped to see the stone sculpture of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. — his figure only partially etched, representing a life cut short, work unfinished.

In respect to my late father-in-law, we stopped at the Korean War Memorial — a somber exhibit that in its ghostlike beauty reminds us of the sacrifice of combat.

Georgetown and Chinese bears

On our final day in D.C., the temperature rose to a respectable 50 degrees, so we made a comfortable 3-mile trek from the Melrose through Georgetown on our way to the National Zoo to see the pandas — a bucket list item for me.

As we twisted our way through Georgetown’s nonsensical intersections, we were sure that Pierre Charles L’Enfant tipped back a little too much wine while designing the streets of Washington, where roads converge into tangled vortexes. We experienced Georgetown’s charm mostly by being perpetually lost.

When we finally found the zoo it was lightly populated, probably because that most of the warm-weather loving residents were nowhere to be seen. We did find pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian munching bamboo inside their climate-controlled cubicles. The cub, Bao Bao, is not available for public viewing yet, but can be seen anytime via the zoo’s panda cam phone app.

Good eats

Jardenea, the restaurant in Melrose, offers American cuisine with an ever-changing menu designed by Nate Lindsay, a chef dedicated to using as many farm fresh ingredients as possible with beautiful presentations.

Our dinner included Chesapeake Bay crab — both in a bisque ($10) with mushrooms in a very light cream sherry base and in an avocado tian ($16) — a salad with mixed greens and an exquisite white truffle vinaigrette dressing. Entree selections include chicken, beef and fish from $22 to $32.

During our walk down the mall, we took a detour down Seventh Avenue, where a variety of bistros can satisfy almost any craving.

Our favorite lunch spot was Burger, Tap & Shake, a noisy joint a block from our hotel. Prices range from $6 to $8 for the best burgers we’ve ever tasted and the menu includes wine, beer and Shake-tails, spirited, adult-only milkshakes ($8).

We also dined at Old Ebbitt Grill, an iconic D.C. spot close to the White House. The restaurant, one of the oldest in the city, is a bustling with energy and is frequented by journalists, politicos and tourists. We were pleased to enjoy a little taste of Southwest Virginia there: The cheese plate ($13.95) includes a silky cow’s milk cheese from Galax.

While we enjoyed our cold jaunt through the capital, I would recommend planning for the spring, when you can experience — and not just imagine — the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

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