Baltimore – for a Weekend Away
By Donald Anthony and Janet Pope
The airlines are raising prices and fees. Airport security has been heightened. Discomfort is at a high while enjoyment is low. Want to get away for the weekend? Try Baltimore! Take a car, train or bus but go. Get out of town to a different place…
Recently I had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Baltimore. There is something so invigorating about exploring a new city or re-discovering a place you have not visited in a while. I came to this simple realization as we took in new sights, sounds and best of all, tastes. Not to appear overly dramatic, but it felt life-giving to be plopped into different surroundings and have my senses turned on to new things. I realized that sightseeing is one of the best ways to re-charge your batteries.
We stayed at the Admiral Fell Inn in a section called Fell’s Point. While the building was built about 1900, it has expanded into the neighboring structures and acquired over 200 years of history, nautical atmosphere and skill in client service. The Inn is located at the corner of Thames Street and Broadway, far enough from the hustle of the Inner Harbor to have its own little neighborhood of restaurants and shops, yet close enough to take a water or land taxi to the museums. Or perhaps a nice walk to wake up the work tired muscles.
Our first lunch was at Meli, a restaurant which is connected to the Inn itself, so we didn't even have to venture outside. Meli is a Greek word for honey and the sweetness of honey is carried through to almost all items on the menu, as well as the decor. There is a honeycomb design on the ceilings and the gratings and a variety of honeys are displayed in the entryway. From the bread and butter to the cookies, a tinge of honey can be detected in every selection. Meli has a very upscale, yet relaxing atmosphere, where we were able to unwind after our drive. Jazz music played in the background and we appreciated the spaciousness between the tables. This was a great place to relax and watch the busy shoppers hitting the boutiques and specialty stores outside.
We soon joined the bustling streets of Baltimore and my wife was able to do a little Christmas shopping. The cobblestoned roads are lined with stores of every kind, many offering unique clothes, art and furnishings, as well as places to grab a quick coffee or ice cream.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the Maryland Science Center, in the Inner Harbor, which was easy to get to. The Fell Inn has a shuttle service set up with two other hotels to transport their guests between them and, in doing so, transport hotel guests close to the Inner Harbor, but to dive into the nautical theme, take the boat taxi right into the heart of the harbor. There are several museums and restaurants to enjoy.
The Science Museum is geared for both the young and old explorers. We especially enjoyed the Da Vinci traveling exhibit, a fascinating look at the life of an amazing man who wore so many hats as an artist, inventor, scientist, engineer, sculptor, biologist, musician, architect and philosopher. I learned so many new things, one of which was that the Mona Lisa had no eyebrows or eyelashes. How is that for a learning experience?
After walking around the Inner Harbor, we headed off to a new "Nuevo Latino" restaurant in Harbor East named Talara. When I first heard this was raw food with a twist, I was not too excited. I am not into raw food, so I was hesitant. It is a dining style called Seviche that originated in Peru, over 5,000 years ago. The early Chimus civilization marinated fresh seafood in the juice of a citrus fruit called "tumbo" and then would consume it a few minutes after its preparation. I admittedly, was still wary. Our waitress Ebony, was very knowledgeable about the selections and both helpful and encouraging in making choices. I was bold and opted for fresh the clamari, but my wife Janet stuck with cooked food and had the pulled pork tapas and the Tempura shrimp followed by cranberry cheesecake.
The open kitchen in Talara makes this not just a dinner out, but a culinary experience. Janet watched intently as the chef prepared our orders and when she sat down to eat he gave her a look of inquiry, with a thumb up sign and I returned the gesture. All was good, even my venture into "Serviche."
Stuffed and tired, we headed back for a quiet night relaxing in our comfy rooms and getting ready for one more day in Baltimore. The Admiral Fell Inn arranged for our breakfasts to be at Meli, so we discovered their baked muffins and their eggs were as good as their lunches.
We shuttled over to the Inner Harbor and took a tour of the USS Constellation, which is the last all-sail warship built by the Navy and the only Civil War vessel still afloat. Going down four levels, it was interesting to see how cramped the sailors were and the obvious hardships and lack of privacy they endured.
Next we headed over to Sport's Legend's Museum by Camden Yards. Like raw fish, I am not too appreciative of sports either, but again the experience turned out to be a great one. Here I learned to my dismay, that the great Battterin' Babe Ruth, did not belong to my New York, as I had thought, but was actually a favorite son of Baltimore. This American icon had at one time, his name and image everywhere and on everything, from pens to underwear, and it is all on display here. I even got to watch an old film of the 1932 World Series of the Yanks vs. Cubs, and saw the longest home run in Wrigley Field history.
Beside obvious displays of the Baltimore Oriole's and the Baltimore Colt's history, there are areas devoted to college teams and Hall of Famers. I especially found the exhibit on the Negro leagues to be eye opening. I enjoyed the Lincoln Room in this building, which claims to have been where Lincoln hid due to assassination threats. We also sat on the very bench in this room that he did and this is where after his death his body lied in state for 8 hours.
In the same building is a fun place to visit called Geppi's Entertainment Museum, which bills itself as a journey through 250 years of American pop culture. Popeye, Tarzan, Captain America, Looney Tunes, Blondie, Dagwood, Howdy Doody and Hopalong Cassidy are just a sampling of names you encounter here. Room after room is filled with toys of yesteryear, posters, TV guides and memorabilia that will awaken the child in everyone. The child in me certainly came out when the guide told us we could play a treasure hunt game using the computers in each room. By swiping a card and answering questions, we were able to win comic books at the end of our visit. I found it fun, and yes, I am sure any child would too.
Next, we were off to the American Visionary Art Museum, where we had lunch reservations at a new restaurant, Mr. Rain's Fun House, located inside. First eat, then art. The menu here, as well as the funky decor, is very diverse. On a weekend around 1 pm, this eatery was jam packed with a half hour wait list, even the bar area was maxed. The only good thing about waiting is that it gives you time to go explore another section of the museum or their extremely unique gift shop. The exotic menu and atmosphere reflects that you are indeed in an exotic museum devoted to the arts. French toast with pheasant sausage and ube crepes with edamame are just two of the samplings.
The museum featured an exhibit called Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Through a multi media approach, this concept, which is at the core of our human rights, is explored. What I loved about this exhibit was that some of the works were from Iroquois Indians, undocumented immigrants, African American civil rights activists, Iraqi doctors, Guantanamo Bay detainees and Holocaust survivors, just to name a few. Their images and the mediums they used to express their personal views of freedom was overwhelming.
Once again we headed back to our hotel to change and relax before dinner. Jan took a nap and I took a guided Ghost tour of the hotel. She was refreshed and I was fascinated. In any case, we were greeted by a car picking us up for dinner at The Rusty Skipper, a courtesy many fine restaurants provide, in order to make Baltimore a more travel friendly city. This restaurant in the lower end of the Inner Harbor has been around since 1982 and as its name suggests, specializes in seafood. Decorated for the holidays and overlooking the main harbor, this restaurant was a treat to the eyes as well as the palate. We both loved the Maryland crab cakes which were definitely more crab than cake. The restaurant has a Prix Fixe Dinner at $29.95 which is certainly a bargain.
Before heading home in the morning we made a list of all the places we want to come back to see but ran out of time for One is The Baltimore Aquarium and another is Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum.
Admiral Fell Inn - http://www.harbormagic.com/AdmiralFell/admiral_fell_default.asp?SP=
Meli – www.Kalismeli.com
Maryland Science Center – www.mdsci.org
Talara – www.talarabaltimore.com
USS Constellation – www.historicships.org
American Visionary Art Museum – www.avam.org
Mr. Rains’s Fun House – www.mrrainsfunhouse.com
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum – www.geppismuseum.com
Sports Legends Museum – www.baberuthmuseum.com
Rusty Scupper – www.selectrestaurants.com