known for its fishing wharfs, crab houses, “working-class”
neighborhoods and ethnic restaurants, Baltimore is now also known
for its visionary ambiance, colorful character, and kaleidoscope of
cultural choices. To explore everything from the land of “Down
Under” to the world of lacrosse, sports legends, pop culture
and collectible comics, take a couple days and make a date with Baltimore.
I say it with some civic pride, but check out what is new in this
urban legend — a city all about people — while connecting
with the pulse of its past.
Day One: Animal
Planet Australia to Batman and Barbies
Aquarium in Baltimore originally debuted in 1981 as
one of the nation’s largest and most innovative marine life
facilities. Today, it is the most attended attraction not only in
Baltimore, but in the state of Maryland as well. Over 1.6 million
visitors flock to the Aquarium to see a collection of 10,500 specimens
and 560 different species. Plan on visiting the Aquarium first,
and early in the day. Otherwise, crowds can be quite overwhelming.
With a range of tropical fish, sharks, rays,
dolphins, frogs, rain forest and reefs to see, the National Aquarium
has always been a place for repeat visits. However, with the latest
entrant, “Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes,” there
are even more compelling reasons to go back. The multimillion dollar
expansion opened December 2005, and has revamped Pier 3 into a waterpark
that encourages sightseers or just people out for a stroll to spend
some time. Inside, the Aquarium showcases in this unique exhibit
frilled dragons, blue-tongued skinks, fresh-water crocodiles, and
a host of indigenous wildlife to Australia. The red rock exhibit
represents 41,000 square feet of space harboring the largest collection
of Australian wildlife outside of the island continent itself.
Another premiere exhibit well worth seeing
A Chorus of Colors.” With stunning environmental
displays and a chorus of frog music to educate and entertain, these
small, but colorful creatures will have you searching for their
tiny whereabouts. Once found, be prepared to point out your discoveries
to those around you, and revel in the human chorus of “oohs”
Sports Legends at Camden Yards
With the Baltimore Orioles, Colts, Ravens,
and University of Maryland’s Terps, it is no secret that Marylanders
love their sports. And with sports greats like Johnny Unitas, Babe
Ruth, Cal Ripken, Jr., and many other great athletes calling Maryland
home, it was time to showcase their memorabilia and championship
moments. Recently opened in May 2005, a sundry of sports “stuff”
and magic is now a 22,000 square foot museum; home next door to
Oriole Park at Camden
Yards. Just three blocks west of Camden Station is
the birthplace of Babe Ruth at 216 Emory Street.
The exhibit on “Negro League teams” is particularly
compelling and tells a story of Baltimore’s Negro Leagues,
not widely known. It is a story of their struggles, hardships and
unwavering commitment to their sport.
My teens enjoyed the interactive lacrosse
exhibit, the fastest growing sport in America according to Sports
Illustrated. It is also the fastest growing women’s sport
in the nation. Sports Legends at Camden Yards is a great place to
check out your talent and various displays and see what you know
Baltimore has rolled out another unique first
in the U.S., with nothing quite like it anywhere else. Having just
opened in September 2006, Geppi’s
Entertainment Museum celebrates the history and world
of toys, dolls, comic books, and pop culture in colorful ways that
make reminiscing fun for the entire family — even for youngsters
brought up with today’s Sponge Bob.
Located above the new Sports Legends at Camden
Yards Museum, this is a wonderfully planned and laid out museum,
with over 17,000 square feet of iconic pop culture. Grouped by significant
historical trends with eight different period rooms of artifacts
and treasures, the museum traces pop culture and its impact on society
from 1776 through the present. Follow Palmer Cox’s Brownies
and Buster Brown to the Great Depression Days and World War II.
The museum contains a lot of nostalgia, from Mickey Mouse to Superman,
to Batman. The exhibit profiling the advent of television nudges
memories of Howdy Doody for many Baby Boomers; while rock and roll
tunes of the Beatles recall what was then the new Cold War era.
We listened to these colorful characters from Britain to help divert
our attention from a potential nuclear melt-down.
As America shifted from an industrial to
an information-based economy, pop media and culture embraced more
than super heroes who save the day; and expanded to include fast
food clowns, Barbie dolls with hour-glass figures, and Star Wars
characters who carry the “force” with them. For the
amateur cultural anthropologist, sociologist, or political commentator
it is engaging food for thought.
Whatever your age, whatever your memories,
whatever your collectibles, you are guaranteed to find a connection
with the past and present through the vast collection of comics,
toys, dolls, posters, art, action figures, and memorabilia.
Day Two: Traveling by Foot,
Water Taxi, and Duck
What makes Baltimore so accessible and family-friendly,
is the fact that it is so easy to get around. Perhaps that is why
Prevention Magazine recently named Baltimore as one of the 100 Best
Walking Cities in America. From walking, to water taxi, to traveling
by Duck or double-decker or dragon paddle boat, the choices of transportation
are many and affordable.
Start your second date with Baltimore by
riding the “Duck,” a combination 70-minute land and
water tour of Baltimore’s famous landmarks. (Though the amphibious
vehicles are 1945 era Army DUKW's, they have been converted into
open-air vehicles that use an eight-cylinder engine and four driving
wheels on land.)
Some of the sights include Edgar Allan Poe’s
grave, the Star Spangled Banner House, Little Italy and Fells Point.
The added fun comes when you receive your official “quacker,”
a whistle that sounds like a duck and which is issued to each passenger.
Next, hop the water taxi, an efficient and
entertaining mode of transportation that provides quick and easy
acccess to over 35 Baltimore attractions. Frequent boat service
makes this an affordable and convenient way to skirt around the
harbor. After lunch in Little Italy or Fells Point, head back to
see how sailors used to live on board the USS Constellation.
Not exactly new, the USS
Constellation Museum is a bold-faced interactive stare
into how life was on board the last all-sail warship built by the
U.S. Navy, and the last existing American Civil War-era naval vessel.
Constructed in 1854, the ship contains actual sleeping quarters,
meal rations, and weapons with live cannon firings. I found myself
magically transported to a time of the great sailing ships on the
seas. Designated a National Historic Landmark, the USS Constellation
is permanently berthed at Pier 1.
On Top of Baltimore: The View
from the World Trade Center
Save time at the end of the day to see Baltimore
from the sky, at least from the 27th level of the World
Trade Center. And don’t forget your camera. With
stunning 360 degree views that showcase this architectural marvel
of the Baltimore skyline — my favorite cityscape — this
is a perfect view for the end of a perfect date with Baltimore.
IF YOU GO
National Aquarium in Baltimore
501 East Pratt Street
Geppi’s entertainment Museum
301 W. Camden Street
410-427-9438 or 410-625-7060
Sports Legends at Camden Yards
301 W. Camden Street
USS Constellation Museum
Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street
Top of the World Observation Level
World Trade Center
401 East Pratt Street, 27th Floor
Baltimore: Get In On It (The Baltimore
Area Convention and Visitors Bureau)
410-659-7300 or 800-343-3468
Ed Kane’s Water Taxi
Ride the Ducks of Baltimore