Baltimore. A monumental city full of hidden charms.
I can only judge by myself, but I would still venture to guess that many tourists, especially those who have traveled on a complex and eventful and impressive route, have experienced the “penultimate day effect”. The essence of the effect is that if at the beginning of the trip you feel everything with double enthusiasm, ready for heroic marches and expression of admiration for 10 hours a day, by the end of the trip you feel so tired, because of the abundance of impressions and endless journeys, that even the penultimate day is almost unnoticed. The eye is “washed out”, the brain refuses to take just one more portion of information about the next attraction, the local cuisine makes you sick, and the soul is aching and begs to go home.
Why does all this happen on the penultimate day? Because on the last day you start to feel sad not for home, but for the journey, which seems to be not over, but its end clearly looms on the horizon, and therefore opens up a second breath for a beautiful and memorable finale.
On our big trip to the United States, Mexico and Guatemala, our penultimate day was spent in American Baltimore. And that penultimate day was both a confirmation that we have little energy for new experiences near the end and an exception to this rule. But first things first.
There are some cities you don’t expect much from. They are not well-known, they rarely grace the covers of guidebooks and travel magazines and are not included in the top most popular tourist destinations. It’s just another spot on the map that you wouldn’t dream of visiting and wouldn’t want to return to. Baltimore is in the category of cities that are most often visited “on the way” – as a convenient but optional stop on a route consisting of more famous and therefore more expected by tourists places.
Baltimore, Maryland’s largest population center on the banks of the Patapsco River at its confluence with Chisapeake Bay, was also included in our program as a city “on the way”. The cheapest tickets offered by the ultra-locoster Spirit Airlines from Guatemala to the U.S. Northeast Coast were to Baltimore, or more precisely, to Baltimore/Washington Airport (BWI), which serves, as its name implies, two neighboring agglomerations.
But before we landed in Maryland, we had to change planes at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport in Florida, and had a fateful meeting with some of our former compatriots who had moved to the United States to live there and were doing quite well in their new homeland. One of them, Tatiana, helped us a lot by suggesting us to visit the Baltimore Museum of Art, which was a great addition to the cultural program of our trip.
Because of the flight delay, we arrived at the Baltimore airport at 1 a.m., tired, hungry (the ultra-locoster saves on food in the first place), and angry. When we went outside for some fresh air after 12 hours on the road, we were instantly chilled to the bone: after the hot Mexico and Guatemala temperatures of minus degrees, which are typical for November in this part of the Atlantic, seemed extremely uncomfortable. To top it all off, I forgot to book a free shuttle service from a hotel located in the suburbs, 3 kilometers from the airport, that offered such a service.
However, the travel luck that had been with us all those long 14 days didn’t change this time. The driver of the route cab of another hotel, who met other people there, agreed to give us a lift for free, though he didn’t have to help us, besides our hotel was completely out of his way.
The pleasant things that happened to us in Baltimore, from which we did not expect anything special, did not end there.
At first, however, the city, or rather its suburbs, made a somewhat depressing impression.
The next morning, having slept and rested, we took the free shuttle back to the airport and from there to Downtown Baltimore. The BWI airport-Baltimore logistics are very convenient for frugal travelers, as there is a light rail branch between the two that runs along the surface and the fare is about $3.
Tatiana warned us that Baltimore is not the most prosperous or even depressed city, especially against the background of neighboring Washington, DC, with its high standard of living and salaries of government officials (not only in Russia this class is prospering), there may be problems with security (how strange to write such not about some Mexican, but about an American city!).
Baltimore has the second highest crime rate in the U.S. after Detroit, and has a pretty sad reputation as the “drug capital”. The criminal side of Baltimore is not as well known as, for example, Los Angeles, New York or Miami, because the city itself is not associated in the mass consciousness as a spectacular setting for cops to fight organized crime. The most famous series about Baltimore, revealing its dark side, is “The Wire”, which tells the story of the everyday life of Baltimore cops, busy investigating cases of drugs and corruption with the use of modern technical devices.
Another feature of Baltimore is its predominantly African-American population (almost 65 percent of the total population), as well as its large immigrant population. A quarter of the city’s residents live at or below the poverty line, working low-wage jobs in the service industry.
When we were in Baltimore, did we feel the unsettled and dysfunctional nature of the city? Dysfunctional by American standards, of course, because even the most depressed parts of the U.S. would be better off than most of the rest of the world.
In the suburbs and outskirts, which we had a chance to see from the train window and where we did a little walking later in the night, things do look a bit bleak. We had no obvious security problems, no one questioned us about what the hell we were doing in a strange neighborhood or whether we had any money in our pockets. But sometimes a chill ran down my neck when it seemed as if someone’s indifferent gaze became a little more interested when they saw us.
There is no need to make hasty conclusions about the city, judging by its outskirts, which are often a faceless typical building mixed up with residential areas, warehouses and industrial zones.
The historic center is another matter. And just the same center of Baltimore is justly entitled to wear the prefix “historic” because the city has seen many buildings of the 19th – early 20th centuries, although, of course, you can also see here the standard for all American metropolitan areas skyscrapers, adjacent to the old brick and limestone houses. The fact is that Baltimore, like Boston, for example, was once heavily damaged by fire, as a result of which one and a half thousand buildings were irrevocably destroyed.
Baltimore is divided into several dozen neighborhoods (neiborhoods). Our only night in Baltimore was spent in Mount Vernon, the oldest neiborhood, named after Mount Vernon, the estate of the first U.S. president George Washington. It was from this area that we began our walk around Baltimore. Once again, as with this entire trip, we were incredibly lucky with the weather – despite a palpable November frost, it was sunny and clear, with not a hint of rain.
The centerpiece of Mount Vernon is the Washington Monument, a white marble column with the figure of the president on top. The height of the column is 54 meters, which corresponds to the height of a 17-storey house. In addition, the column itself is located on a hill, as if towering above the rest of the city. It looks impressive, though it lacks, in my opinion, the open space next to it, as a similar monument in Washington, D.C., allows one to fully appreciate the scale of the column and the harmony of its composition.
The Washington Monument in Mount Vernon is the first monument designed to honor George Washington and the oldest such monument still standing. At the base of the column is a museum. Previously it was even possible to climb up to the top (I imagine the views from there!), but for safety reasons the climb was closed.
The space around the monument is interestingly arranged in the form of an equilateral cross. Each of the four parts of the cross is a small square with monuments to prominent figures, sculptures or a fountain.
Monument to John Howard, one of the political figures of the 18th and 19th centuries, governor of Maryland, a general who commanded the Maryland army during one of the campaigns of the struggle for American independence
Monument to Roger Brooke Toney, who was born in Maryland and served as Attorney General and U.S. Supreme Court Justice
All of these names, celebrated in the context of American history, did not tell us anything. Much more interesting was one of Mount Vernon Park’s four squares, in which four allegorical sculptures depicting War, Peace, Strength, and Order are arranged around a sculpture of a lion.
Americans love to give their cities nicknames, and the history of such nicknames can be fascinating, from a characterization of a city by a journalist or celebrity to a slogan for an advertising campaign or a famous TV show.
One of Baltimore’s main nicknames is “The Monumental City,” or “Monument City. This is how President John Quincy Adams characterized Baltimore, impressed by the majestic monuments, ancient churches, and fine buildings he saw in the city.
Monument to the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the Americans in their struggle for independence from the British Empire
The fountain in Mount Vernon Park.
As for ancient churches, there are many in Baltimore. Not even that – VERY many. The fact is that a significant part of the first wave immigrants were refugees “for religious reasons”, who set out on a difficult and dangerous crossing of the ocean in the hope of freely practicing their chosen faith in their new homeland without persecution by the authorities.
Maryland is notable for being the first state in America to enact a law proclaiming freedom of religion, so that the state and its largest city are home to churches of various denominations, from America’s first Roman Catholic cathedral to one of the oldest American synagogues. Although Maryland was originally created as a Catholic sanctuary colony, most of its churches belong to various branches of Protestantism (of which there are many).
We were not specifically interested in Baltimore’s churches, but we were fortunate enough to see some along the way.
The First Unitarian Church (1817), the oldest continuously used Unitarian congregation building.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (1854), founded among the first 30 Anglican parishes in Maryland back in the 17th century
Zion Lutheran Church (main building, 1808). The congregation was founded to meet the religious needs of German Lutheran immigrants from Germany and settlers from neighboring Pennsylvania
We are not versed in the currents of Protestantism, but we know exactly which churches can be called the most elegant and beautiful. Gothic (and its successor through the centuries, Neo-Gothic) attracts increased attention even from those far removed from architecture and celebrates a yearning for medieval romance.
There are several examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Baltimore. Right across from the hotel where we stayed in Mount Vernon is the slender, skyward-looking First Presbyterian Church (1873).
The church is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and belongs to the oldest Presbyterian congregation in Baltimore.
This church has the tallest steeple in Baltimore at 83 meters (which never quite fit in the frame), visible from far away.
Emmanuel (Emmanuel is the name of the promised Messiah in the Old Testament) Episcopal Church, built in 1854 of white limestone, is near the First Presbyterian Church, on Catedral Street. Another striking example of neo-Gothic architecture.
Baltimore is a city located in the Eastern United States in Maryland. Baltimore stands on the Patapsco River where the river flows into Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by 200 miles (just over 300 km) by land, 60 km southwest of Washington, D.C., and 125 km northeast of Philadelphia.
Approximate driving time to Baltimore:
- 4 hours from New York City.
- from Washington 1 hour
- from Philadelphia: 2 hours.
Baltimore was founded in 1729. Because of its location, the city has become one of the most important port cities on the East Coast of the United States. Baltimore is home to 622,000 residents. The population, including suburbs, exceeds 2.7 million. The city’s overall population has been steadily declining for decades. By the end of World War II, for example, Baltimore was home to about 1 million people.
As an industrial port city, Baltimore has historically been populated by the working class. The city’s economy was based on the steel industry, shipbuilding, and transportation. Having gone through phases of deindustrialization, Baltimore is now shifting its economic orientation toward the service, service, and financial sectors.
As of 2013, Baltimore’s racial composition:
- African Americans – 62.5%
- whites – 28.5%
- Hispanics – 4.6%
- Asians – 2.4%
- The rest are other or mixed races
More than 23% of urban residents live below the poverty line by American standards. It is worth noting that by 1950 the black population was only 23.8%.
Downtown Baltimore is home to many hotels, stores, restaurants, clubs, and cultural attractions. The northern part of the city is mostly low-rise residential neighborhoods where affluent white residents live. South Baltimore is comprised of residential and industrial areas with a diverse mix of neighborhoods and residents of all incomes. The eastern part of the city is predominantly residential, with most of the population there African-American. Blacks also predominate in west Baltimore. Like the eastern part of the city, the west is known for its high crime rate.
Downtown Baltimore, along with Downtown Baltimore, is the most interesting part of the city. The main attractions of downtown Baltimore are:
- Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
- The National Aquarium
- Retro ballpark at Oriole Park
- M&MT Bank Stadium
- Baltimore Basilica
- Power Plant Live!
- Washington Monument
Inner Harbor, in the heart of Downtown Baltimore, is the pride of the city. It is now a commercial and entertainment area. The docks and streets around the harbor are filled with museums, restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues. Significant Inner Harbor sites include the National Aquarium, The Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery Children’s Museum, and the World Trade Center of Baltimore. On the piers of the Inner Harbor is moored a whole flotilla of ships: the sailing ship USS Constellation, the World War 2 submarine USS Torsk, the lighthouse ship Chesapeake and the Coast Guard ship Taney. All of these vessels are open for tours. A water cab takes everyone to Fells Point, Little Italy and Fort McHenry.
Other notable neighborhoods and points of interest
Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood is located in close proximity to the harbor. It is still home to a large Italian community. Little Italy in Baltimore is a cozy neighborhood with lots of ethnic restaurants and stores. It is also one of the safest neighborhoods in the city.
Fells Point, a neighborhood east of Downtown, was once a favorite entertainment spot for sailors. Now Fells Point is filled with stores, bars (over 120), and galleries. It’s a popular place to visit and can be reached by water cab, among other things.
Just south of Inner Harbor is the Federal Hill neighborhood. From there, a small hill offers a beautiful panorama of the harbor.
In the Mount Vernon area is the Washington Monument.
There is one unusual museum near Baltimore that deserves attention. It is the National Cryptology Museum, located 20 km southwest of the city. The museum is overseen by the U.S. National Security Agency, which is headquartered nearby at Fort Meade.
Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is 40 kilometers southeast of Baltimore. Annapolis is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and in 1783-1784 the city was the state capital. Now it’s a quiet place with well-preserved buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Annapolis is also home to the United States Naval Academy.
The riots in Baltimore periodically make the news headlines. A good idea of the “black” neighborhoods of the city can be given by the popular TV series Wire (The Wire).
Climate & Weather
Baltimore has a humid subtropical climate with an average July temperature of 26 C and an average January temperature of 3 C. In winter, warm air masses can bring significant warming, as well as an Arctic front can bring colder temperatures to -10 C and below. Snow falls intermittently, with freezing rain and glaciation occurring several times during the winter. During warmer periods of the year, Baltimore often experiences heavy rains and thunderstorms.