Tuesday, April 21, 2009

33rd Annual Cherry Blossom Festival

Branch Brook Park is located between the neighborhoods of Forest Hill and Belleville. At about 4 miles long, approximately 360 acres and 1/4 miles in width, it's the nations first county park and is becoming one of the largest urban parks in the United States today. The park has a natural feel, with acres of meadows and forest. There is also a large lake, tennis courts, walking trails, ball fields and skating rink as well. Our apartment is less than a mile away from the park. It's proximity to such a beautiful park is one of the reasons why we chose to live here in Forest Hill.
The main attraction of Branch Brook Park is the 4,000 cherry blossom trees in more than fourteen different varieties. Unknown to many people, the cherry blossoms here are greater in both variety and number than the famed Washington D.C. cherry blossoms. By 2010, 5,000 more cherry blossom trees will be planted due to the $650k grant by the Essex County park restoration fund. Known to the locals as Cherry Blossom Land, the park holds a spectacular Annual Cherry Blossom Festival each year in April.

There are a host of events that runs through the month of April. It starts off with the 10km Cherry Blossom Run followed by the Cherry Blossom Gala, a bicycle tour , photography workshops, the Cherry Blossom Brown Bag Lunch Series as well as the Susan G Komen Race. The highlight of the Cherry Blossom Festival is of course the Bloomfest! This years Bloomfest was held on the 19th of April. Visitors from all over the country come to the Bloomfest ever year. Since it's practically in our backyard, we decided to go check it out too! We knew that there would be a huge traffic jam if we tried to drive into the park, so we just parked in the housing area (together with all the locals from Forest Hill ;P) outside the park and walked in. Looks like we made the right choice. Not only was there a major traffic jam, there wasn't any parking spots left inside the park! Look at the amount of cars just stuck in the jam, they couldn't move at all. Even though it was quite a walk, we got there faster than those driving.

Look at the beautiful colors of the cherry blossoms! The colors ranges from white to really dark pink! They also come in various heights and sizes. Some were pretty short...

...while other trees were spread out and really tall! I also love how the cherry blossoms just fall down like pink snow every time the wind blows. It was so beautiful. Pink cherry blossoms covered the ground almost everywhere we looked. Pink was definitely the color of the hour!

We arrived at the Main Stage area just in time for the Kimono fashion show by Nihonwasou USA. The lady gave a detailed explanation about the various types of kimonos, when is appropriate to wear which type and the history of kimonos.

We wandered over to the Cultural Tent to see what is happening there. Looks like we have just missed the Bonsai Demo by the Bonsai Society as well as the Urasenke Tea Ceremony. Madam Nobuko Novak was just starting with her Ikebana Demo. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. I found out that it's more than just arranging flowers in a vase. The general rule is that everything must be organic and that it should be simple or some say is the art of minimalism. Every flower, branch and leaf has a meaning and it signifies something. Pretty interesting. We also had a chance to look at other Ikebana arrangements by other people that were on display.

Madam Nobuko's demo was a tad bit slow for us :P, so we headed to the Cherry Blossom Center to see what was happening in there. There was an exhibition on the various types of cherry blossoms trees and visitors also had a chance to talk to park rangers about cherry blossom trees as well as Branch Brook Park in general. There was also a few other things happening in the smaller meeting rooms of the Visitors Center. There was a book signing in one of the rooms as well as a calligraphy demo by the Kampo Cultural Society. We sat in for a bit to watch an origami demonstration by a lady named Mary Kao. It was pretty interesting actually.

After that, we walked around the grounds where there were booths set up by various organizations in the community as well as smaller booths that sold cultural and hand made crafts.

Shown here are the girls from the NJ School of Dance. They were teaching the kids various types of cultural dances. They later put on a mini showcase of various Asian dances.

There was also a booth that had a bonsai plants exhibition as well as bonsai trimming/bonsai care demonstrations throughout the day. I think Kevin liked that booth lots!

One of my favorite part of Bloomfest was the drum circle. The guy in front was teaching and leading the rest of the people in the drum circle. They had a few different kinds of drums and anybody could just sit down and join in the drum circle.

Guess who went to join in? :D

There were also a lot of activities for the children. They had children's craft like sand art and spin art as well as face painting, kite flying and bracelet/necklace making.

If you are not interested in all the activities that were simultaneously going on at various locations, you can just sit back and have a picnic under the lovely cherry blossom trees. Many families, from kids to grandparents were just enjoying the day by having picnics and just relaxing. Check out the Yoko Ono look alike. She was taking the longest nap under that big shady cherry blossom tree! I was just waiting for the two monkeys on the tree to fall on her..hahaha. Yes, I am mean :P

Bloomfest wouldn't be Bloomfest if it didn't have any yummy carnival food, right? Our last stop for the day was at the food section. There were all kinds of carnival food like hot dogs, cheese steaks, pulled pork sandwiches, funnel cakes, zeppoles, fried oreos...the list goes on. We bought a bag of zeppoles. It's basically deep fried dough balls covered with powdered sugar. Mmm mmm mmmm :D It tasted a little bit like donuts but the consistency is more chewy.

We also bought this totally amazing drink. It's Iced Tea mixed with Lemonade! It comes in a huge 32oz cup with lemon and lime wedges. Really really refreshing.

We had a great time at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park. I'm so glad that we live so close to such a great park. I just can't wait for the other events that will be happening from now until the end of summer. Some of the upcoming events will be the Fishing and Boating Derby in May, the Farmers Market starting in July til October and Movies Under the Stars, every Friday night in July. Oooohhhh I just can't wait!

Note: Click here to see more photos of the Cherry Blossom Festival

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