I sweeeeaarrr I’m about to update some more of my travel posts. Going to West and Central Africa does that to you, though – it makes you fall way behind. (I still haven’t finished my posts from my first African adventure! Sorry!) But, before I launch into my March travels, I’m going to take a step back and review a city I recently spent some time in: Baltimore, Maryland.
Now, if you’re from my area of southern Pennsylvania and if you (like I) have ever been accused of having a Baltimore accent, you might know that it’s not exactly a city to boast about. Of course, folks from B-More are quick to shut me down for having family in Friendsville because – HAHA! – Western Maryland is for hicks! Well, at least we aren’t from the GHETTO.
Don’t get me wrong – the harbor is one of my favorite parts about the east. The beaches? Unless it’s the Gulf Coast, you can have ’em. I myself prefer the brackish waters and became an obsessed helmsman when I lived on a sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay with my classmates in May 2005. There’s nothing more thrilling to me than pushing off a dock in Annapolis, cruising across a windy stretch of water, then stopping off at St. Mary’s for fresh calamari. And the way an anchored boat swings and rocks you to sleep at night…
But that’s not Baltimore, per se.
The city of Baltimore has a…less than pleasant reputation. Stereotypically speaking, when us PA-ers 2 hours outside of the B-More region think of Baltimore, we think CRIME, poor, crumbling, CRIME. And maybe crab.
Maryland is a beautiful Appalachia-Bay state, but it is plagued by the crime rates of the Baltimore and District of Columbia regions. The history of Maryland is rich with the importing and exporting business, and even my mercantile ancestry traces its roots to Port Depot, Maryland. But what has happened in the meantime has caused some financial implications. For example, the 20th century: it hit Baltimore hard in a few ways. First, there was an enormous fire in 1904 that burned over 70 blocks of downtown B-more to the ground. Then, between WWII and the peak of the Civil Rights movement, the black population soared to about double. That is of course not an issue in and of itself, but it did contribute to the enormous riot of 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It took over a week of unrest to settle the city and billions of dollars were spent in the effort. This lasting effect is still evident downtown where streets remain barren. Strikes persisted years after the riots were shut down.
Baltimore is a pretty enormous metropolitan area, at least relative to its tiny state! There are a couple of centuries worth of architectural richness, but it can be difficult to pick out some areas of historic worth. For example, my mom and I walked the streets through the historic neighborhood of Fells Point, but the row houses were bleak looking, windows were boarded in several sections, and there was some uncomfortable company lingering around the project house districts. Fells Point is known for “ghost tours”, which we did not do in the dead of winter, but we did bare against the whipping harbor winds to walk along the notorious Inner Harbor. If you’re a museum kind of person, keep in mind there are many – including an aquarium.
I only cheer for the Orioles or the Ravens when they’re playing Cleveland, but the Camden Yards and M&T Stadium sandwich I-395 just north of the bridges to I-95. They’re probably the nicest looking things in Baltimore, but I would be a little nervous leaving a ball game in the evening hours. But if you’re going to go out on the town, I DEFINITELY recommend heading to the Federal Hill district.
My favorite place in Federal Hill, an area just southwest of the Inner Harbor, is the Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse. This place is QUIRKY. If you log in on FourSquare, it provides pictures, hours, comments, a complete menu,…but basically there is Dog Food (Apps, Salads, and PIZZA), and Federal Hill Beer (house made!). The pizzas are the way to go. There are so many kinds, vegetarian included, with clever names for most. For example, the Atomic Dog Pizza for under $10 includes: hot sauce, hot cherry peppers, smoked gouda, mozzarella, smoked bacon, pepperoni, and red onion. Couple this with some beer – but mind you! You get 2 of the same! It’s a really weird policy, but you just have to roll with it. Not kidding – pick a beer and expect to drink two of the same one. And, no, you can’t do 1-and-1. Pick a full breed, such as Peach Dog or Amber Dog, or take a Mixed Breeed like the Boxer (1/2 black dog and 1/2 blueberry) or the Smooth Dog (1/2 hoppy dog and 1/2 brown dog). The Pub Dog is in a tight row house next to many other attractive, busy bars, and the center of the is Federal Hill section is actually a Farmer’s Market of sorts in the daytime. Check it out! It feels pretty safe here (for Baltimore), but street parking will be hard to find and there will be a LOT of people out on a drinking night.
We stayed in the northern part of Downtown, at the Hostel International on W Mulberry Street. Not far to the north is Baltimore’s Washington Monument. Passing that brings you into the section of town known of Mid-Town Belvedere. In my experience, this place is a less-crowded Federal Hill with maybe a little higher of a price tag. My choice in this section? The Brewer’s Art – not for just anyone. This place certainly LOOKS fancy if you step into the parlor upstairs. It’s got a restaurant in the back and more bar space in the basement. We managed to slip in to the front bar under the fancy chandelier where I laid eyes on some pretty intriguing taps! From our side of the bar, there were no names we could tell on the taps. Instead, the taps were decorated artfully. For example, one tap handle was a pitchfork. Another was a birdhouse. The latter was obviously the Birdhouse brew – a pale ale of theirs – but the others weren’t always so obviously. We did not eat anything due to how late it was, but there’s an extensive menu of fancy creme fraiche-d meals for anyone ready to experience some fine dining with craft brews at their fingertips.
Although Little Italy, Downtown, Perkins Home, and Fells Point all kind of mush together around the Inner Harbor, there are still some gems that I have left out. Firstly, I enjoyed a flight at the German-style brewery Gordon Biersch while enjoying a window seat, small meal, and view of the harbor. But I must say, the absolute HIGHLIGHT of a Baltimore morning? Getting up early to stand and wait (maybe for HOURS) to eat brunch at the Blue Moon Cafe! Certainly, the rush of people wanting a seat in this extremely narrow, one-floor row house restaurant adds to the desire to score a plate. Driving over to park at this place, I remember laughing with my mom at this flock of people standing across the street, staring up at the building. Literally, there were people standing there, staring quietly, not talking to one another. It was the weirdest thing. Then we walked into the steps of the restaurant and saw a policeman getting up from his table. There were only a couple of people standing in the back of the cramped space. I remember thinking, Oh! That’s not so bad! I had heard there’s a wait, but there seemed to be spaces…. WRONG! Those people outside were the ones who chose to wait AT the restaurant. Everyone else went shopping at Fells Point! So we wrote our names a couple pages over. We didn’t feel like leaving so we stood alongside the wall in the back, sucking in our stomachs to let waitresses pass. We made friends with the waitresses and stood there for probably a couple of hours. Nope, we still weren’t close. People were taking their good ole times. That’s when one of the waitresses who had taken a liking to us said, “You know what, follow me…” We ordered so much food, we could hardly walk. I took some spicy omelette with salsa, mom took some special Eggs Benedict with lump crab, and we split a plate of the famous Capt’n Crunch french toast. They were also introducing a new cereal-coated bread, I think it was Cocoa Puffs. But WOW! Such a great place! I dare you to make the commitment. You’ll want to do it again!
For anyone venturing around in the warmer months, the Baltimore Farmers’ Market sets stands outside under the I-83 ramps in the downtown section. It’s a pretty cool thing in when it’s open, HOWEVER, when it is NOT open, expect the steps around town to be covered in snow and ice, drug deals to be in broad daylight in the streets of northern downtown, homeless people to be shouting after you, and shifty-eyed folk to be sweeping the strip clubs just outside of the government buildings. Yeah, I only say those things because I experienced them…but the summer is certainly much more livelier. And not much farther southeast of the market is the Little Italy section of town. We wandered our way into Piedigrotta, notorious for its Tiramisu, and made some fun conversation about where the world is going and about my recent experience in Venice, Italy with a Venice born-and-raised lady behind the counter. I would recommend going not just for a caffeinated beverage, sweet treat, or conversation in Italian…but also just to hear the interesting perspective this lady has on our country!
So, if you know where to look, Baltimore doesn’t have to be so bad. Just make sure you avoid certain dead areas at night, stick to the happening spots, and DEFINITELY center your experience around local brews and seafood specials! This city does NOT need to be an expensive trip – you just have to have a little patience to get the best seats 🙂