I recently spent a few days on vacation in Baltimore. When you’re an older, single guy like me, it’s not easy coming up with vacation ideas when all the big resorts, destinations, et al. are geared towards either families or couples.
As it happens, I am a baseball fan, and I am not averse to driving for several hours. Here in the northeast, that combination means there are six Major League teams within my driving range. I’ve been to Citi Field in New York City to watch the Mets, and I have no desire to pay far more than necessary to see the Yankees.
So I checked maps and team schedules to see just how many different teams I could see in one week. It turned out that if I went to Baltimore, and took a day trip to DC, I could see five teams in three days.
But before I get into my experiences at the ballparks, I thought I’d talk about “Charm City” from a first-time visitor’s perspective.
I got a hotel just a few blocks from Camden Yards, and less than a mile from the Inner Harbor. That put me within easy walking distance of everywhere I could want to be. I didn’t want to have to rely on mass transit or taxis to get around. That’s money I’d rather spend on other things.
When it comes to mass transit, Baltimore is rather odd. They can’t seem to make up their mind what the preferred method will be. Sure, there are a lot of buses, and “water taxis” criss-crossing the harbor – that’s to be expected. But there is just one subway line, one “light rail” line (residents might claim it’s actually two separate lines, but since they travel the same route for virtually all of their distance, I’m calling it one), and two commuter rail lines that for some reason do not directly connect to each other. A big plus with the buses are the “Charm City Circulator” routes. There are four that go from the Inner Harbor area to outlying neighborhoods – and they are completely free!
When it comes to the tourist attractions, always go for the combination tickets. A lot of individual sites aren’t big enough to spend an entire day in/at, so save a bit of money and get the combos.
If you are a baseball fan, get the combo for the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum and the Sports Legends Museum. They are both a very short distance from Camden Yards. The former is pretty small (it’s a house, after all!), and doesn’t have much in the way of Ruthian memorabilia (that’s probably all up at Cooperstown). But it does a nice job of showing a typical home of the early 1900s, and a lot on Ruth’s career before he went to Boston. When I went, there was a little exhibit on the “500 Club” – players who have hit more than 500 home runs in their careers. It was very cool to find that, in the collection of autographed baseballs, there was one signed by Sadaharu Oh (868 home runs in his career in Japan).
The Sports Legends Museum is devoted to sports in the state of Maryland. From the Orioles and their history (and the Orioles Hall of Fame), the Colts and Ravens, to famous athletes from Maryland, to the story of amateur baseball in the state, it should be a Must See for pretty much any sports fan.
When you’re at the Inner Harbor, the first thing you’ll notice is how small it is. It’s not really much bigger than a large marina. I’d say not much more than 12 acres of open water. The second thing you notice is that their are no fences or guard rails to keep you from falling in. There are life rings at regular intervals, but like the sign says at Dick’s Last Resort, “There are no lifeguards. If you fall in, you had better be able to swim”.
The area is dominated by three buildings. There’s the World Trade Center ($5 to get up to the 27th floor observation deck, and worth it just because it has the best view of the harbor), the National Aquarium, and the Power Plant, which is now home to restaurants and a few shops. Dick’s Last Resort and the Hard Rock Cafe are right next to each other in the Power Plant, and they both have rafts/piers out on the water, where they each have live music. Somehow they manage not to drown each other out.
I did go to the National Aquarium. It’s not all fish. They had an exhibit of Australian wildlife, talking about how animals and plants adapt to the wide variations between the wet and dry seasons, and a miniature tropical rain forest. In both of those areas, birds were flying freely. Guess they were so used to people that they didn’t really care.
Of course, they had craploads of fish. So many that it wasn’t long before I was overloaded and started thinking more about how one designs a place like that. What are the architectural and engineering challenges, how do you decide how to arrange the displays to make a coherent exhibit… things like that.
If you like historical ships, the Inner Harbor is the place for you. They’ve got the USS Constellation (the last of the big sailing ships and a veteran of the anti-slavery era), the USS Chesapeake (a lightship – before it was possible to put lighted buoys or other automated signaling devices in dangerous areas, actual manned ships were sent out as navigational aids), the USS Torsk (a submarine from WWII), and the USCGC Taney (a Coast Guard Cutter that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, saw action later in WWII, and in Vietnam, and in the “War on Drugs” in the 70’s and 80’s). Get the combo ticket – you can see them all in one day. There’s plenty of differences between the ships, so you don’t get overloaded.
I can also recommend a visit to the Walters Museum, if you’re in to Art. It’s free, and small enough that you can see the whole place in one day. It still has lots and lots of stuff, though. The layout of the galleries is a bit confusing. They really ought to provide you with a better floor plan. The coolest thing I saw there was conservators cleaning a Buddhist altar/shrine piece (at least I think that’s what it was; I didn’t really ask) right out in the open. A day camp group was around them, asking good questions and getting schooled in the fine art of cleaning a delicate piece of art.
I can’t tell you much about the food, since I ate mostly at the ballpark.
More on Camden Yards and Nationals Park later.
Oh, and if you care for some reason, here are the websites for the places referred to: