Charm City Part 1: Start with Sunshine, Great Food, and Some Important Landmarks

Somewhere between reminders to “Be careful!” and short interrogation sessions – “Why would you even want to go there, what is there to do?” – we planned our visit to Baltimore over President’s Day Weekend.

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We walked around 30 miles this weekend, no joke!

We weren’t scared off.  We didn’t feel scared at all, even walking through some of the trickier neighborhoods.  I believe a little common sense goes a long way when travelling, and, let’s be honest, every city has its rough neighborhoods.

Despite all the warnings, we used the weekend to its fullest.  Eating some great food, learning quite a bit of history, and enjoying one of the best weekend’s worth of weather I’ve ever seen during February!  I mean, seriously, people acted like we were getting deployed into a war zone.  I know Baltimore has had its fair share of troubles (recently and in the past) but we really enjoyed the city.  It’s got character.  It’s got a beautiful harbour.  It’s got plenty of history and some great food.  Each neighborhood has a different feel.  I love cities like that.  I want to walk from one end to the other, and see different people, different buildings, new food.  That’s what make cites so great, you can find a little bit of everything.

Day 1:  Food, Art, and the Clock Tower

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The first day, we arrived via overnight Amtrak, tired, hungry, and ready to explore some place new for the first time since October.  My favorite part of the first day may have been walking from Baltimore’s Penn Station down to the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore-Downtown (where we stayed) when we arrived.  A 6AM walk shows you a different side of any city.  Baltimore was just beginning to wake up, stretch, and get ready for the day.  We walked by the original Washington Monument in the early light, with nobody else around.

Life’s all about perspective.  When you travel, take everything in.  Don’t worry about being a little tired or hungry, or that your feet hurt.  Keep walking…keep looking around, you’ll be glad you did!

As it was far too early to check in, we took a quick breather on the lobby couches, dropped off our bags, and then started out in search of breakfast.  My girlfriend had already earmarked the Papermoon Diner, so we turned north and kept walking.  It was about an hour on foot, so by the time we got to the diner we were starving.  The diner itself is quirky, and I think that’s really it’s claim to fame.  Old toys and strange sculptures line the walls, and 971 PEZ containers (my son counted all of them) see the patrons out the door.  You can always order the breakfast staples, like some eggs or pancakes, but they offer quite a few unique options as well, to go along with the decor.  I opted for a few things off the specials menu – wild mushroom hash and eggs paired with a green tea milk shake.  Though a strange pairing, everything tasted great!

We wanted to stay in the area, since we were just a bit too early for the Baltimore Museum of Art nearby.  Having satisfied our hunger (and woken up a bit, courtesy of some hot tea), we walked over to the Johns Hopkins University campus.  The campus and the BMA are on the same land, and the campus was beautiful in the sunshine.

The Baltimore Museum of Art offered plenty to explore.  The BMA has a  varied selection – modern, contemporary, surreal, paintings from the 1800s and 1900s, as well as art and artifacts from the ancient world.  I’m kind of at both sides of the spectrum here, I love modern art, especially sculpture.  I can also get lost in the galleries of any museum displaying ancient artifacts, so I enjoyed looking at both sides of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Next stop was Charm City Cakes nearby.  You’ll probably recognize the logo from their TV show, or the boxes of camouflage cake mix on the shelves of your grocery store.  Unless you’re getting a custom cake, the experience of the shop is underwhelming, but some of the example cakes they have on display are incredible!  If you want a crazy looking cake, Charm City Cakes is your place.  And, if the cupcakes are any indication, they’ll taste as great as they look!

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Don’t worry, they have elevators too!

We wanted to check out the Bromo Seltzer Clock Tower while in Baltimore, and it was only open for tours on Saturday, so we snagged an Uber to bring us down to the hotel.  The clock tower was actually a highlight of my trip!  It was really interesting to learn a bit about the history behind the tower, the eccentric man behind it (Captain Isaac Emerson), and climb up to the top.  The dials are 24 feet in diameter, and the tower itself is modeled after a similar building in Florence, Italy.  By the time we climbed down the 15 flights of stairs, the lack of sleep on an overnight train was taking its toll on me.  We walked back to the hotel a bit early, and lucked out on an open room.  We brought our gear up, and took a good nap.

We caught a hotel shuttle down to the Little Italy area afterward, and made our way towards some food.  Our noses lead us right into Chiapparelli’s Restaurant, and we weren’t disappointed.  I don’t think there’s any better way to end a long day of exploring than with a great plate of delicious food!

The next day we woke up bright and early to took advantage of the hotel’s breakfast.  Modest, but it got the job done with some fresh fruit, eggs, and sausage mixed in with the standard hotel items:  cereal, oatmeal, bagels, yogurt.  Fueled up, we walked over to the Walters Art Museum, to get our second dose of art for the weekend.

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The WAM’s collection of Japanese tsuba, or samurai sword guards.

My son was really interested (and who am I kidding, I was too) in the extensive collection of old arms and armour.  The Walters boasts an excellent collection of everything from medieval halberds, to samurai plate armour, to early flintlock pistols.  Although I’ve been known to spend an hour or two in art gallery, I really love art museums with ancient artifacts on display.  If you want art, go to the Baltimore Museum of Art; artifacts?  Head to the Walters.

After the museum, we met up with some friends of ours from DC.  They had decided to come into Baltimore and explore a bit with us, which was a great addition to the trip!  We settled in for lunch at the Pratt Street Ale House, taking in the sunshine in the front patio area.  It can feel a little busy, right on Pratt St across from the convention center, but the fresh air and good beer selection was worth it.

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I’ll be honest, it was a little creepy, but the girlfriend wanted to see Edgar Allen Poe’s grave while we were in Baltimore, and I couldn’t help my own curiosity at the site as well.  More curious than the site itself though, was the crowd it drew.  Someone with a many-sided legacy, Poe’s grave attracts an interesting following.  Now, I don’t profess to judge a book by it’s cover, but the dead author seemed to call to literature professor types, all the way to the opposite spectrum of folks with dyed hair and plenty of ink.  (I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, but I digress.)  Add the couple with a 7 year old boy exploring the site to the mix, and I’m sure Poe himself would have been a little confused.

Doubling down on our Baltimore sites Saturday, we turned in the direction of the Basilica (formally known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).  Claim to fame:  the first cathedral in America.  Completed in 1821, the basilica rests in Downtown Baltimore, just South of the Walters Art Museum we explored earlier in the day.  It truly is a beautiful building, evoking memories of the cathedrals we stopped by in Peru.

We decided to end the night strolling around Fells Point.  Complete with cobblestone streets, the area channels its inner Newport with plenty of taverns and small shops, but feels a bit more working class.  We really enjoyed the setting sun over the water while stopping for some gelato a little further down the strip.  We parted ways with our friends from DC, and turned in for the night.

And that was the end of day 2!  After typing everything, I decided to break Baltimore into two separate posts, so come back tomorrow for more!

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