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Baltimore is not an exotic place. It's not the type of place most people would cross an ocean or even a country to visit. It is, however, the place I'm living at the moment and so, for now, it is home. I chose the job rather than the location, and I'm loving the fact that at the moment they are paying me handsomely to sit at my desk and write all day, but Baltimore itself is still taking some getting used to. For those who don't know (and until I got this job I fell into that group), Baltimore is a city in Maryland, and Maryland is a state on the east coast of the United States, surrounded by Delaware (as Elle Woods would say: "No sales tax!"), Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. Baltimore is perhaps the most well known place in the state, though Annapolis, some distance to the south, is the state capital. Chesapeake bay on which the city sits means there is always water nearby, though this is all harbours and rivers rather than nice oceans with beaches. Baltimore has its own airport - Baltimore Washington International - and is also easily accessible from the Washington Dulles and Reagan airports. There are 2 Amtrak train stations, and 2 Greyhound bus ones. In other words, getting to Baltimore if that's what you are intent on doing is not a problem. Neither is finding somewhere to stay - the inner harbour area has hotels in all price ranges from 3 Marriotts to the less extravagant Days Inn and Comfort Inn near the convention center. Because I live here, I don't see myself as a true tourist. I work all week and do mundane stuff like going to the gym, going supermarket shopping, doing my laundry in the evenings and on the weekends when I'm in the city rather than off gallivanting somewhere else. But, because it's a new city to me, I have made an effort to trail round some of the guidebook stuff, and have actually seen more of the city than most of my colleagues, or so they say. Baltimore claims to hav
e been the first for lots of things - it was the place the first stars and stripes flag was made, the place the Star Spangled Banner was written and first sung and so on. So when I heard the National Dental Museum in town was a first, I was a little concerned - surely the locals aren't so deluded they believe that the first person with teeth originated here? In fact, it was more the dentist side of things they're claiming origination of - the world's first dental college was here, they say, and to commemorate it, they now have a small, odd-smelling museum dedicated to all things teethy. The entrance fee isn't much - $4.50 for adults, $2.50 for the old, the young and the studious, so I figured it was worth a trip. The museum is a strange mix of things. They have very old tools and chairs on display, along with case after case of "through the ages" stuff - toothbrushes, toothpaste and so on, dating from years gone by right up to the present day. They also have a huge tooth shaped TV that plays old commercials, and another screen showing cartoons about teeth, bacteria and toothpaste. There are a few button-press things on display, but most of the space is taken up with written wall displays about the history of dental practices throughout the world. Up on the second floor they have some kids corners, mainly for children coming on school trips. They can dress up as dentists, hygienists, patients and so on, and act out a typical scene from a dental surgery. They also have a book corner with dental inspired stories from around the world, including the inspiringly titled book "My tooth ith looth" and my childhood favourite "Dr DeSoto". The Inner Harbour is probably one of the more famous bit of Baltimore, and this is where a further few attractions are located. The Maryland Science Center is a lot like the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, or London's Science Museum. The majority of the displays are han
ds on ones, and themes include dinosaurs, the human body, space and more. Live science shows are put on several times daily at weekends - the one I saw had this really bratty kid experience static electricity and burst into tears: it was excellent! They also have an Imax theater showing several different shows each day, and the travelling exhibits on the top floor currently include one about Jane Goodall's work with chimps. Entrance is not cheap - up to $20 for adults depending on which ticket combo you go for - but you can spend a long time there. Along the harbour front a bit is the National Aquarium full of fish (which I hate) and dolphin shows (which I love) - I went only because, as with the Science Center, it's somewhere for which my company offers free entry passes. It is, however, probably the most popular attraction in the city, and as such fills up very quickly at weekends. A few more steps along the waterfront and you end up at the PowerPlant, a collection of cafes and bars and attractions, including Passport. I did this on a wet, rainy Saturday, not quite sure what to expect. Basically, your $12 buys you 40 minutes of entertainment including a 15 minute interactive quiz and a 25 minute 3D show/ride thing where your seats move and they blow wind at you to make you feel like you're on a rollercoaster. The show is not particularly good - I saw Time Elevator America whose inventors seemed to think the history of the country could be summed up in just 4 events over the last few thousand years - and I probably wouldn't recommend it. Other downtown attractions include Fells Point, a "quaint" neighbourhood slightly classier than the city center, the Star Spangled Banner House and Museum and of course the sports fields / pitches where the Ravens and the Orioles play. Further up town is the Walters Art Gallery, a museum with an odd mix of paintings and other art works from various time periods. This museum is free every
Saturday, and free tours run both weekend days. Again, I went because I had a free pass but though it was good, I could only pass an hour there before I'd seen everything. Washington has a monument (the Washington Monument) that is nice and tall but impossible to get entry tickets for. Baltimore has a monument (confusingly also called the Washington Monument) which is a smidge shorter, but a lot more accessible, so this is where I found myself one Sunday. I live less than 3 minutes walk from this place, but since all the buildings round me are fairly tall, I don't see it unless I walk down a certain road. So I walked down that road, paid my $1 donation and began to climb. The guide books had warned me that this was something best attempted only by those in top physical condition, and equipped with supplies (snacks, drinks, a flashlight and whistle, something to read during your rest periods) so I was quite surprised when after a few hundred steps I was emerging into daylight at that top. The people who wrote that guide have obviously never climbed any European cathedral towers. Still, less work than expected is always good, so I didn't let it worry me too much, and began to explore. My first observation? This place is just a lawsuit waiting to happen, and not something I would have expected in safety conscious America: there were no safety rails, no hideous barbed netting, no glassed in sides. Had I been in suicidal mode, I could just have hopped over the mini-wall (barely 1m high) and plummeted to my death. Ignoring this, you could have fun up the tower. The views are great - you can see down to the Inner Harbour and beyond - and the breeze that hits you at that height is refreshing and light after the generally thick air on the ground below. Baltimore center has very few shops as most have now relocated to out of town malls. You can buy the odd thing downtown, but big supermarkets, a selection of clothes shops and similar are a definite bus o
r tram ride away. In fact, the only thing I managed to buy down by the harbour was books, because they have a huge Barnes and Noble on the water's edge. There is a small shopping center - the Gallery - a few minutes walk away, and while it has some ok shops (Bath and Body Works, the GAP, Ann Taylor, Claire's Accessories) most are pricey and relatively small compared to what you'll find out of town. Though Baltimore has public transport in the form of busses, commuter trains and trams, some places only 20 - 30 minutes from the center are not served, and those which are do not always have continuous links. I generally get out of town at weekends because it is easier and almost as cheap to fly somewhere miles away than try to navigate to somewhere closer to home on the ground. Restaurants do exist in the center, but these seem either to be hideously expensive or total greasy spoon places, with nowhere in-between. All cuisines are catered for at some level, but the general places I'm after, like a diner where I can have a leisurely Sunday breakfast, do not exist. Unlike Chicago, none of the big names - Denny's, Friendly's, Wendy's - exist in the center - as with the shops, they're all out of town. They have McDonalds in the city itself, but there's only so many Oreo McFlurries you can eat before they start coming out of your ears. The main food specialty here is crabs, and announcing your vegetarianism does not always go down well, and is inevitably met with odd looks as if that is a disease they thought confined only to those hippies out in California. The weather in Baltimore is taking some getting used to. I arrived in June and had pouring rain for my first week. Since then it varies on a day by day (sometimes hour by hour) basis, switching from hot but very thick, sticky temperatures, to flash floods and sudden thunderstorms. Case in point: last night when I left work for the gym it was so hot I longed for a beach and a b
ikini. When I left later that night, it was raining so hard that in the 3 minute walk home, my clothes became soaked through and were still drying out this morning. There are constant weather warnings on the news here - and when storms come they can be powerful enough to knock out the electricity, or flood the streets to knee level. After the mild if slightly cold summers I'm used to in England, this is a very strange change. Winters here get cold, but being on the coast they don't quite hit the depths of Germany or mainland Europe in general. Would I recommend Baltimore? Not really. If I were working in a neighbouring state, it is very unlikely I would have come to see this place. I may have made it sound like there's a lot to do here, but there's not. The museums they do have are poor compared to those in the major cities - D.C., Chicago, New York. The downtown places are extremely crowded, and apart from the bustling harbour, there are very few places to be outside here: parks near me are constantly full of homeless people sleeping on the benches, and as I said earlier, there are no beaches down by the water. I think the biggest reason I would not choose to recommend it is the people. I've been to the USA before, and so had ideas of what to expect. But unlike the people of NYC and southern California, those from Baltimore are not always the happy clappy customer service oriented Americans you might expect. In shops here, people do not wish you a nice day. They grunt answers to your questions, and are generally unhelpful. Aside from in my office (where in actual fact most people don't come from Baltimore city), people do not hold doors open for you. They do not smile as they give you change, or generally go out of their way to be polite. The only people who have seemed nice to me are those who want something - usually the homeless guys a few streets over from my flat who have figured out that smiling and being friendly are more li
kely to get them the money they're begging. This is not what I really expected from the USA, stereotypical though my views may seem. I thought I would be living the American dream here, but that is not something that seems to be alive and well in the city of Baltimore.
On my trip to Washington DC (which you can read about under Washington DC) my and my dad went across the border to Maryland. This was to go and see Great Falls, part of the Potomac river, which runs through DC. So off we go to great falls. in the middle of summer, on one of the best day's of the holiday, which would normally sound great, but on a 2 mile hike down the river, over maily rocky terrain including a lot of climbing and sliding down rock faces, without the prospect of diving into the river as its full of snakes and some serious undercurrents which would soon dispose of you. Great Falls itself is about a 1/2 a mile long, it is a part of the river which is split into about 100 different waterfalls and it is purely awesome to look at. The viewing area is up higher than the Falls so you can see right accross the falls and look down the river. The view is totally unbelievable and it makes you feel all tingly because of the pure awesomeness of it. After you have seen the falls you can then go on the trail down the river, so we set off down the trail, heads held high and feeling good after what we had just seen at the falls, this lasted for around half an hour and then we were exposed to the sun. Walking over the tops of the rocks, which were also beautifully formed after the ice age. Walking along the rocks there was no hiding from the sun beating down on us, taking breaks every five minutes to get a drink and rest. The views all the way down are absolutely stunning, and wildlife is in abundance. We got pictures of snakes and lizards, terrapins and fish and some of the most awesome views i have ever seen in my life. I live in the Lake District in Englang so i've seen my fair share of views but these were second to none, the things i saw that day will stay with me for ever and i feel extremely priveledged at being able to see them and keep them with me. Over the Christmas period
i went back out to America and went back to Great Falls. This time i was more impressed than before. The Falls had frozen up with all the cold weather that the area had had just recently and the view from the walkway was utterly unbelievable, it really did look like something out of a fairytale. The water was running under the ice, but the way the ice had formed was amazing, i must have taken 20 pictures of the same area to make sure i got it all in. And the river further down which was running freely in the summer, was now just a mass of ice. It was surreal, seeing the mighty Potomac river totally covered in ice and deadly silent. If you go round the trail it brings you out on a footpath back to the car park along side the C+O Canal which was also completely frozen which allowed an American the chance to cycle right up the middle of the canal, which left me and my dad in stitches. I feel lucky to have experienced this place in all its beauty in summer and in the winter as well
Maryland is a Mid-Atlantic / Southern state located on the East Coast of the United States. According to the most recent information provided by the 2005 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, the State of Maryland is the second wealthiest state in the United States, with a median household income of $61,592.