Upon telling them I was going to go Baltimore, the reaction of most people was somewhere along the lines of “why would you want to do that?”, “oh, you’re brave” or “My uncle Jimmy went down there in ’86 and we ain’t seen him since”. The general consensus seemed to be that Baltimore was the place where the gun slingers gathered to hone their drive-by skills, and that one should never go there if they can possibly avoid it unless they have a hankering to see what exactly it is that happens when a large-scale crack deal goes tits up.
I had also heard a rumour that there was a 19th Century sloop-of-war in the harbour that slightly resembled a pirate ship, and as an avid fan of all things piratey I wasn’t going to let a bit of scaremongering come between me and an afternoon pretending to be Jack Sparrow. Besides, I’d been told if I stick to the harbour area I’d fine, and I’d managed to recruit a group of courageous friends who were also keen to brave the locals and experience a new American city. Safety in numbers.
It was about half way through the 30 minute drive from our Towson campus to Charm City that we started to think that the rumours surrounding the place might not be as far-fetched as we had assumed. There certainly didn’t appear to be an over-abundance of ‘charm’. Instead, was a street lined with derelict and semi-derelict buildings, and (with minimal prejudice implied…) the kind of people you really don’t want to bump in to in a dark underpass. I didn’t take any photos (mainly through fear of being mistaken for an undercover cop and lynched for it) but if you type ‘East Baltimore’ into Google Images, you’ll get the idea. A ghetto worse than any I’ve seen in Los Angeles or New York City. It was around about this time that our hilarious designated driver thought it would be a real hoot to wind down the windows and play country music really loudly. I still maintain it was a miracle we even made it to the ‘nice part’.
We did make it, however, and upon arrival in South Harbor, it became clear that it was very worth it. The ‘Charm City’ nickname starts to make a lot more sense, and you begin to see why Tracy Turnblad was so happy to serenade her hometown in the movie Hairspray. There’s only so much I can get across in writing, though, so I shall now let the photos do most of the talking.
It did, of course, help that it was a sunny 36 degrees, and the pedal powered Loch Ness monsters made me feel quite at home! Then there was USS Constellation, the aforementioned sloop, her three masts dominating the maritime skyline. A product of the 1850s, she was constructed long after the golden age of buccaneering, but a tall ship is a tall ship, and despite the lack of pirates, she was a beautiful addition to the area and I’m glad I saw her.
The architecture in the downtown harbour area is also pretty cool. Well, the ugly tall building in the photo below is the Baltimore World Trade Center, but the rest are nice! The red brick building behind the Chesapeake (red boat, white writing) is home to the Hard Rock Cafe (hence the giant guitar on the roof) and Philips, the legendary crab house where we will have dinner (the beautiful people are some of my new international friends).
They love statues in Baltimore, and another of its nicknames is Monument City. Because we were in Baltimore, we figured we would love the statues too.
We snuck into the stadium of the home team, the Orioles. We were the only people there, so, despite not really caring for baseball, it was pretty cool.
After walking around in the sun, were now pretty desperate for a beverage of some sort. There was a huge selection of bars in the Lower Harbor, but one of them had gone the extra mile and erected fake palm trees, so naturally, we had to go there. The place was called Dicks Dock, part of a chain of bars where the USP is that the staff are generally unpleasant to you.
I don’t know whose idea it was to open such a chain, but I found it pretty funny. Some of the less open-minded in the group took slightly more convincing, but, as you can see from our beautiful smiling faces, we all had a great time. Not that you can fail to when it’s 35 degrees outside and you have a frozen margarita in your hand.
Upon further exploration of the harbour area we found (unsurprisingly) some more boats with interesting stories. The US Coast Guard Cutter Taney is the last surviving ship of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor…
…Lightship 116 Chesapeake was built in 1930 and was used to warn other ships of severe weather conditions and treacherous rocks. From 1930 and 1933 she marked the entrance to Chesapeake Bay until she was converted for wartime Duties.
Once we’d had our fill of historic vessels, our roving took us to the World Trade Center, outside of which is a 9/11 memorial with twisted girders from the destroyed WTC in NYC.
After sampling some famous Maryland crab at Philips, we sat in the harbour, with USS Constellation as a backdrop, listening to a guitar-man make sweet music as the sun set. Talk about romantic eh?! (video coming soon)
Finally, after a long time sitting there, we decided it would be rude not to sample Baltimore’s nightlife. We ended up at this place http://www.powerplantlive.com/, and my first US club experience did not disappoint! It all gets a bit hazy now, but when we’d had our fill of tequila and dancing, we managed to fit the 6 of us into a 5 seater car (after bribing security to let us out of the garage which supposedly closed at 8) and drove back home though the ghetto. Which is much more enjoyable when you’re drunk.