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2015 Jun

Adventures in Baltimore

Whenever I take my son Ross on a trip, my fervent wish is that he will discover something meaningful and inspiring, perhaps be touched in a new way. Isn’t that what we always wish for when we travel? To learn something new about ourselves and the world we live in?
 
Sometimes the gamble pays off, and Ross pauses in a roomful of paintings or stops at a science exhibit and discovers something new. Maybe it’s folk art that grabs his imagination, or an old relic covered with the dust of centuries jumps into his heart and makes him wonder.
 

On a recent visit to Baltimore my husband, Peter, and I had the pleasure of watching Ross react to all kinds of art and culture—from traditional to eclectic, historic to kid-friendly, culinary to aquatic. We discovered that beauty exists in the expressions of human experience—and we found beauty in many forms among the streets of Baltimore.

BEAUTY IN MOTION

Culinary works of art were on the menu at RA, a fabulous sushi restaurant near the Inner Harbor where we lunched after arriving in Baltimore. Giant red orbs hanging from the ceiling jazzed up the interior, and retro music added a cool vibe.

But the most gorgeous piece of art was the signature roll called Viva Las Vegas. On a crescent-shaped plate five delectable mounds of oriental flavors and textures converged to create a divine taste treat. Salty seaweed, spicy tuna, and eel sauce were just some of the flavors we encountered—a work of culinary art, indeed.           

My tablemates thought so, too. I couldn’t keep them away from my plate! The upside was I got to sample Peter’s and Ross’ choices after they helped devour mine. Ross ordered a bento box: a tidy combination of salad, veggies, and an entrée of rice and chicken. Peter chose a spicy tuna roll. Everything was tastefully prepared and artfully presented.

Well fortified, we walked over to the National Aquarium, one of Baltimore’s fabulous attractions. There we watched beauty in motion—from hundreds of species of fish swimming languidly by plate glass windows as big as a house to tiny iridescent frogs in shades of neon among vibrant green foliage. A rainforest contained brilliant blooms and the sounds of the jungle—twittering birds and buzzing insects, like music to our ears.

After checking into our hotel, a convenient Marriott Spring Hill Suites just a couple blocks from Inner Harbor, we headed uphill to the Walters Museum, one of Baltimore’s best-kept secrets. Friday evenings the museum stays open for after-hours exploration and concerts in their auditorium. Ross announced he wasn’t thrilled about going to an art museum, so Peter and I promised we would keep it brief.

Instead of trying to rush through the Walters’ vast collection in a short span of time, we concentrated on one awesome gallery off the main lobby called the Chamber of Wonders. Designed to resemble an aristocrat’s sitting room, the space is a rich tapestry of dark wood paneling, framed paintings depicting scenes from around the world, and collections of artifacts that evoke curiosity and wonder.

A helpful docent showed us highlights of the gallery and offered Ross a child-friendly handout which directed him to certain works and asked thought-provoking questions. Ross dutifully walked around and observed works of art, including one with scenes of heaven and hell and angels and devils and all manner of strange creatures. Ross found this imaginative piece both frightening and compelling. We had to drag him away.

In fact, when it was time to leave the Walters, Ross suddenly wanted to see all the galleries: Ancient Greek and Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Asian.

“Come on, Mom,” he said.

“No, Ross, we have to go to dinner now,” I told him. Inside, I was thinking we needed to take this child to see more art.

We dined that night at a Greek restaurant called Samos on a neat street lined with old-fashioned row houses. We loved everything we tried: souvlaki, tzatziki, Greek salad, and saganaki, which is luscious melted cheese served with warm pita bread. The atmosphere was convivial with Mediterranean music playing and walls splashed with scenes of Greece. Maybe we missed the Greek gallery at the Walters, but we enjoyed a taste of Greek culture at Samos.

RAIN & RAINBOWS

The next day we awoke to a deluge if rain in downtown Baltimore. Luckily we brought along umbrellas, so we decided to make the best of it.

Our first stop was the Maryland Science Center, a playground for kids of all ages. After exploring the center’s educational exhibits, we headed over to the American Visionary Art Musuem, where folk art is the focus. Somehow I am always drawn to the colorful, imaginative art that untrained artists create. It’s wild, flowing, carefree, poignant, delightful, sad, and inspiring.BaltimoreAmerican Visionary Art Museum - Fifi

I love the museum’s educational goals, found on their fabulous website. The first is “to expand the definition of a worthwhile life” and another, “to confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age.”

After exploring the museum and its amazing gift shop, we ran through pouring  rain around the Inner Harbor and found refuge in Phillip’s, where a cold beverage and an acoustic singer kept us company while we dried off. Soon a double rainbow appeared over the city skyline, heralding the storm’s end.

Sunday dawned sunny but chilly. After brunch at Ze Mean Bean, a small cozy wine bar with a Ukranian vibe, we headed to Port Discovery Children’s Musuem. Ross took off to explore the “awesome” exhibits while Peter and I sat and read the Sunday paper. After a busy couple of days in Baltimore, it felt good to take it easy and let Ross burn off some steam.

For an early supper we hopped on the highway in search of a diner in the suburbs called Paper Moon that looked intriguing. As soon as we walked in and saw action figures, plastic dolls, PEZ containers, magnetic letters, and assorted paraphernalia blanketing the walls and ceilings, we knew this was no ordinary restaurant.  

We grabbed a spot at the bar and ordered nachos, which Ross described as “the best nachos I ever had in all my twelve years.” Oozing with cheese and fresh veggies, the flavorful nachos offered the right combination of toppings.

Monday we visited the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, a few blocks north of the Inner Harbor. Known as the birthplace of America railroading, this museum occupies the same site where in 1829 Baltimore businessmen, surveyors, and engineers plotted the first commercial long-distance track, essentially inventing the American railroad industry.

A wonderful find for train buffs of all ages, it’s been voted by Baltimore parents as the best museum for kids. The collection of railroad cars is the most comprehensive in the world and includes the oldest and most historic rolling stock to be found anywhere.

Huge locomotives from all periods of history provide a glimpse into our country’s storied past and gave Ross a chance to learn a few lessons in propulsion. Outside a model railway lured us over, and we enjoyed pressing buttons and watching little trains move across bridges, through tunnels, and into towns and villages. We could have stayed longer, but there was one more stop we wanted to make before driving homeward….

Lexington Market is an institution in Baltimore, a place where residents and visitors have shopped for fresh meats, seafood, poultry, groceries, and specialty items for over 200 years. It’s changed over the years, of course, and now features international foods for sale alongside fresh pig tails, cleaned (thank goodness) pig chitterlings, long-cut pig’s feet, and hog maw, whatever that is. I even saw signs for raccoon and muskrat. We skipped the exotic stuff and instead indulged in a few fresh doughnuts to enjoy on the ride home.

A visit to Baltimore is always an adventure. For families or couples seeking a close-by vacation brimming with culture, art, history, and just plain fun, you’ll find what you’re looking for and more.

For more information, visit www.baltimore.org

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and co-publisher of Tidewater Family and Tidewater Women magazines. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com