I’ve been going to Baltimore ever since I can remember. My father was born and raised there and none of his family ever left. When I was a kid, we would travel by car from New Jersey to Baltimore for one or the other holidays in our wood paneled station wagon. I always rode in the back with the luggage, while my older brother and sister claimed the backseat.
My dad’s sister and her family lived next to the Loch Raven Reservoir. They had built a big house in the ’70’s on the side of a hill and I always considered it to be the best tree house ever, all 5,000 square feet of it, hidden in the woods. When you walked into the kitchen on the backside of the house (because there was no front door), the main floor was decorated very prim and proper with old Williamsburg decor and a piano against the wall. Everything chair, rug, or wall was some combination of blue and/or white, and that included my aunt’s china in the dining room.
I slept upstairs, on the top floor, which I always found a little scary as a kid. My cousin’s room was big, drafty and dark, despite the whitewashed walls. I slept in the bed closest to the door in case I had to make a run for it. The room creaked a lot at night which I combated by squeezing my eyes shut, thinking if I couldn’t see it, then it wasn’t happening. (Kid logic, what can I say?). My parents slept on the main floor where all of the other bedrooms were. I can’t remember where my siblings slept, or even my cousins, when we came to visit. I guess I was too worried about the ghosts.
Below the main level of the house, there were two more floors. There was a short staircase between the kitchen and dining room that led to the “den.” This was a big room with wooden floors that was meant for casual hanging out. It was cozy with a big rope rug in the middle of the floor, a big tv, and a huge brick fireplace set in the wall, with a brick bench built-in, you could sit on in to warm up. When we were there for Christmas, the Christmas tree was always set-up in the den next to the big window that looked out into the woods and the winding driveway up to the house.
Another staircase led from the den into the basement. I loved this room. It had a ping-pong table and an old, wooden shuffle board table, too. Not only that, but Uncle Larry kept all of his science specimens in the basement. Larry was a high school math and science teacher and he loved the outdoors. He had stuffed birds and rodents stored there, as well as empty tanks once used for reptiles and bugs. As a kid, it was a treasure trove of surprises waiting to be discovered. I loved walking up and down the shelves to see what I could find. It was like a little museum.
The washer and dryer were also down there, and on every floor of the house, there was a “laundry chute” where you could pitch your dirty clothes so they went straight through and landed on the basement floor. I couldn’t help but look down the chute to see if I could view where the clothes piled up before they were washed. It was like an open invitation to jump through the chute, but I never did. I was sure I would get in a lot of trouble for that!
My Aunt loved to cook breakfast every morning in her long, polyester bathrobe, her short, wavy blonde hair all disheveled from sleep. She walked around the kitchen with a spatula in one hand, pouring milk into everyone’s glasses with the other. We ate a lot of pancakes and scrapple in that house and I loved all of it.
I’d spend my days at my Aunt and Uncle’s house entertaining myself in the basement, or taking walks from heir backyard up to the reservoir with my Uncle or my Dad. Their chocolate Chesapeake Retriever, Coco, would join us, flushing out the squirrels and clearing the way for us. I always loved the sound of the rushing water at the dam. I have a lot of great memories from my time spent there as a kid.
I haven’t been to Baltimore in a while. My aunt and uncle have long past and my two cousins who remain there with their families live on the outskirts. Russ and I decided to have a quick getaway this past Labor Day weekend. When I told my dad we were headed to his hometown, he reminisced about some of his favorite spots, such as Sabatino’s in Little Italy. He added the mayor of Baltimore in 1960, who lived in Little Italy, was Mayor D’Alessandro. Nancy Pelosi us his daughter. He also said the rumor back then was if someone committed a crime in Little Italy they were never seen again, making Little Italy the safest place in Baltimore. (Haha!)
I picked Fells Point as our landing pad since I have always stayed at the Inner Harbor in the past. I thought switching it up would be good. A friend had told me about the newly-opened Pendry in Fells Point, and while I couldn’t justify the $500/night price tag, I found something else nearby.
Russ and I rolled in rather late Saturday night after having dinner with friends before the drive there. This was my first tactical error. Arriving in Fells Point at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night is not for the faint of heart, or for the sober. It took us a half hour to move the last two blocks to get to our hotel. My other mistake was I hadn’t considered the parking situation, as in the hotel didn’t have any. It didn’t dawn on me there would be no parking offered. We had to find a parking garage after checking in (and transverse the crowded, packed streets again).
But, by far, the worst part was the hotel itself and specifically our room. It was downright gross. The furniture didn’t even look like it got picked up at a garage sale. It looked like it came, used-up, from the dorm of an old, defunct university. They had thrown a small rug in the middle of the room, but it was lipstick on a pig.
There was no hiding the sound of the sticky floor under the soles of our shoes. The one chair in the corner with an ottoman had black streaks across it. I didn’t want to set my bag down on it, let alone sit in it (I didn’t). To add insult to injury, the room was an icebox, and the bed only contained a thin polyester blanket sandwiched between two sheets. I asked the front desk for another blanket and she informed me she did not have a single one to spare. In that moment I felt like I was Elaine in the famous episode of “Seinfeld.”
“Can you please spare a square??”
Russ and I almost left to head back to D.C. when we saw the room. I was so flabbergasted someone could think a room like that was acceptable and worthy of a fee. I was also pissed with myself I had paid up front. Because I booked it so late, you often have to do that, but it added insult to injury. Fighting for a refund at midnight, and trying to find another option on the spot, did not seem plausible whatsoever. We decided to suck it up and try to make the best of it (and not get bed bugs in the process).
Sunday we got up early and headed to the aquarium. Russ had scored free tickets through a coworker. Even first thing in the morning, the aquarium was packed. I love all of the animals there—fish, reptiles, amphibians, and of course, the dolphins. I could watch the dolphins all day. They are so beautiful and graceful, and quite simply, magnificent. Russ had to pry me away from the glass at the bottom of their pool. I didn’t want to leave them.
We had skipped breakfast, so Russ was very hungry by then. Little Italy is a stone’s throw from the harbor, so we meandered through there for lunch. Sabatino’s is one of the first places you come across, but we decided to stop in at Chiapperelli’s across the street. They served us a HUGE lunch. As a result, we canceled our dinner reservation at Tio Pepe’s later that evening.
That afternoon we headed to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The museum boasts a great collection of work by Matisse, both paintings and sculptures, and an impressive collection of Antioch mosaics. I was also very interested in the installation about the Angola Prison in Louisiana, also known as “The Farm.” A friend’s mother had spearheaded their creative department at one time and my friend had also purchased a horse from them. Angola has a huge cattle and horse breeding program (among other things) on their 18,000 acres.
As a horseman, I love this quote:
“I don’t know what a good horse is, but I know what a sorry one is because I’ve rode plenty of them growing up.” –Danny Hoover, Agricultural Manager for Prison Enterprises at Angola.
Russ and I went to the five star Pendry for a cocktail later that evening, and while it is a beautiful building, the bar and service has nothing on our favorite hotspots in D.C.
I know now I have officially been spoiled.
We rounded out the day at Max’s Tap House before calling it quits. When we got back to the hotel (the dive), Russ noticed we had amassed a total of 19,000 steps.
Labor Day morning, we headed to the Blue Moon Café for breakfast before heading out. We were one of the first ones there, which was lucky, because it didn’t take long for a line to form outside the door. The Blue Moon Café is great food, great service at a great price. We will definitely go back!
We stopped at Ft. McHenry to take a tour and happened to get there before they changed the flag for the day. As a veteran, Russ had special privileges in helping the rangers with this task. Ft. McHenry is famous for its victory against the assault by the British in the War of 1812. It was during this time that Francis Scott Key penned what would later become our national anthem.
Russ and I got back to D.C. around 1 p.m. We couldn’t wait to unload so we could wash everything, ourselves included, to get the film off the hotel left. I remembered why I haven’t stayed in Fells Point since a friend’s bachelorette party there twenty-five years ago. Some things are better left in the past. As Russ said when we finally reached the Starbuck’s our first morning in Baltimore, “Just think. We could have stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn and you could have just walked downstairs to get your Starbucks.”
Don’t worry. Next time we will!