WASHINGTON - Nahla Alolayan from Saudi Arabia is seeing Washington, D.C.'s famous cherry blossoms display for the first time.
"I think they are amazing. You can't imagine this place," she said at the Tidal Basin, where some 1,700 trees ring the reservoir and nearby area. "I feel like I am in heaven."
Some 1.5 million visitors from all over the world descend on the city to enjoy the delicate pink and white flowers that bloom each spring.
That includes two Buddhist monks from Vietnam, who were walking along a popular path next to the water with overhanging cherry trees. Their English was limited, but their smiles said it all. "Very nice," said an elderly monk.
Gift from Japan
Washington is home to more than 3,000 cherry trees that bloom in early spring, providing a magnificent show. Japan gave the trees to the city more than a century ago as a gesture of friendship.
Although many have had to be replaced over time, some of the old, gnarled and knotted trunks remain, with their large flowering canopies that continue to keep up with the younger trees.
Angela Tongohan came with some classmates from Maryland. Even though the high school student lives close to Washington, she'd never seen the blossoms when she was younger because her mother is allergic to flowers.
Tongohan said the puffy blossoms remind of her of "clouds," but she was surprised to discover that "the trees don't have cherries on them."
For her friend, Mae Soto, who also had never seen the flowers, the visit was almost like a religious experience.
"I stared deeply into them," she said.
Camarin Manglona, who had recently moved to Washington with her family, had only seen photos of the cherry blossoms, but she had a tattoo of them put on her arm.
"But you really have to see them in person to take in their beauty," she said.
An Harmanli came to Washington from Massachusetts as a first-year medical student.
"I really love them," she said excitedly. "They're so unique because they bloom for a short time, which makes them special."
Depending on the weather, the flowers usually last about a week, when they transform from buds into blossoms that fall off and are replaced by leaves … leaving visitors waiting for another grand performance the following year.