I recently had the opportunity to go to Baltimore for a conference, which was very conveniently held from Wednesday to Friday, and as Baltimore is only 2.5 hours south of New York by train it made perfect sense for Tom to join me for the weekend.
We had planned to spend the Saturday mainly outdoors, but when we emerged from an excellent brunch at Miss Shirley’s it was raining, so we took shelter in the fantastic National Aquarium instead. In the end it took us four hours to see all it had to offer – a huge reef tank which you could admire from above and below; lots of small biotype tanks; a rainforest environment with monkeys and parrots; puffins, sharks and dolphins; and an Australian exhibit with reptiles, amphibians and birds.
We emerged from the aquarium into a beautiful late afternoon, so walked around the harbor to the historic Fells’s Point district. The Inner Harbor area has apparently undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, with lots of interesting new buildings (including the aquarium) amidst some remaining older architecture.
Complete with cobbled streets, rows of quirky old buildings and a plethora of shops, bars and restaurants, Fell’s Point is a delightful neighbourhood in which to wander…
…before pausing to sample some of the local cheer.
After the bar we had dinner at a fantastic restaurant, the Lebanese Taverna (which also offered an excellent range of gluten free dishes). I must say that all the food we had in Baltimore was excellent, and prices were a shade lower than in New York, which we certainly appreciated!
On Sunday morning we set out bright and early on the bus to Locust Point and Fort McHenry.
For those of you not completely up to speed on the shadier corners of Anglo-American history, Fort McHenry was the target of a bombardment by the British navy in 1814. Fresh from burning Washington, the British had set their sights on the rather better-defended city of Baltimore, and the fort withstood a 25-hour bombardment before the attackers gave up and slunk away. In fact, the conflict had been started by American aggression towards British Canada, and the whole thing ended in an ignominious draw a few months later, and the visitor centre does a nice job of presenting the affair in a reasonably balanced way.
In addition to some great displays of artefacts, text and an introductory video in the visitor centre, there are a number of other exhibits to discover whilst exploring the fort itself. We enjoyed watching a play-by-play animation of the battle and its associated incursions, and other displays about fort life, munitions and the wider history of the site were all very interesting.
Prior to the attack, the commander of the fort had had the foresight to commission a local seamstress to make a gigantic flag, and of course it was the sight of that flag being raised as the British guns fell silent which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. It was therefore particularly interesting to encounter these two later responses to flag and poem, written when the Civil War was splitting the country and Fort McHenry was a prison for Americans rather than the last defensive hope against foreign aggressors.
After spending a lot longer in the fort that we had expected to (always a good sign, I feel), there was just enough time to have another epic meal at Miss Shirley’s (unimaginative, admittedly, but as well as coming highly recommended they have a good gluten free menu too) before making our way back to the station. In our usual eccentric European fashion, we decided to walk all the way (just over a mile, I think), and we were pleased to get the chance to see a little of the elegant Mt. Vernon neighbourhood.
As always with a weekend break, there were several museums, areas and other attractions that we didn’t get the chance to see, and for this trip we were positively overwhelmed with recommendations. We really enjoyed what we saw of the city, it had a nice feel to it, and I would certainly be happy to return.
Regular readers may have noticed that lately this blog has been anything but leaves from the big apple, and I’m afraid the travelogue of our adventures in other parts of America is set to continue for the next few posts. Be assured, however, that we’ll get back to New York in the not-too-distant future!