Jul 012012

by Denise Mattia

Before traveling to Baltimore to experience the city’s cultural institutions and southern-style cuisine, my colleague and I decided to spend a few days in the Baltimore-Washington jurisdiction of Howard County, which, according to a 2012 Forbes Magazine article, ranks as one of the wealthiest places in the nation to live. The article attributes the county’s stellar school system as the reason for the migration, which is due to employment in defense projects. Our plan was to see what Howard County has to offer.

Howard County Adventure, Fun, and Bargains

Our first afternoon was spent at Terrapin Adventures under the tutelage of Matt Barker C.E.O. of the company and his expert guides. We had a choice of conquering some of the 32 outdoor Low- and High-Challenge Courses, however, since our time was limited, we chose the zip line and the giant swing. The tightrope walk from one platform to the next high over the forest canopy was the scariest part of zipping, and after the giant swing I was convinced that 2G’s of force propelling us forward was not for the faint of stomach (this activity appeals to kids). The adventure park is part of the historic Savage Mill complex of specialty shops, restaurants, crafts, artist galleries and antiques. A short drive to hunt for bargains in Ellicott City, a charming community in Howard County, was a more subdued activity. Visitors and locals alike frequent Windi River on Main Street for low-down prices on designer clothing. The Forget-Me-Not Factory, a four-storey 19th century building overflows with antiques, objects d’art and memorabilia and A Journey from Junk wows visitors with its eclectic collection from trinkets to gorgeous quilts. The day ended in this historic city, where ghosts are said to roam, enjoying spirits of a different nature at a Haunted Tasting Tour of pubs, taverns and bistros.

The following day we visited the Merriweather Post Pavilion, designed by renowned architect, Frank Gehry. The sound system and video screens make this amphitheatre a favorite of bands and fans. Replete with creative sculptures dotting the lawns and plenty of space to listen to the various genres of music played here, the pavilion lends urbanity to the county.

There wasn’t a festival scheduled at the Merriweather Post Pavilion until later in the month, however a short drive away was Toby’s Dinner-Theatre of Columbia — one of the few regional theatres in the U.S. that maintains a live orchestra. We dined there and when the buffet tables disappeared, the room was transformed into a theatre in the round for the performance of the Wizard of Oz. Imaginative choreography, brilliant costumes and professional acting compensated for the minimal scenery.

Our preferred method of seeing any city is walking, and the colorful and historic neighborhoods of Harbor east, the National Aquarium, Little Italy and Fell’s Point were easily accessible from our hotel. Still, an alternative way to sightsee is the hop on hop off water taxi, an inexpensive ($12 per day) mode of getting around. The Charm City Circulators (public transit shuttle buses) give riders free connections via three, color-coded lines to historic sites throughout downtown Baltimore.Baltimore City

Stop and explore American Visionary Art Museum, America’s official national center for self-taught, intuitive artistry. Founder, Rebecca Hoffberger believes that art isn’t about things but of social justice. Still, works here aren’t heavy handed – they’re more an observance of the joy of life.

Outside the museum is the giant 55′ whirligig by Vollis Simpson, happy shiny things by artist Bob Benson, a mirrored Cosmic Egg by Nadrew Logan, and Dick Brown’s Bluebird of Happiness. Inside, wonderful kinetic mechanized toys come to life with a push of a button, and there’s always a fascinating current exhibit. The American Visionary Art Museum is easily reached via the purple linewhich stops at Federal Hill Park, adjacent to the museum.

Exploration of Baltimore City can also include the fabulous views of the Harbor from the windows of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. We found other great views at the Four Seasons Baltimore, and from the Baltimore World Trade Building as well.

Fooding Around

The tour What’s Cookin’ in Fell’s Point explores parts of this district that’s nearly three centuries old. Walking among historic homes works up an appetite, and soon we ordered perogies, potato pancakes and other ethnic dishes at Ze.Mean.Bean Cafe. At Hungry Andy’s, pit sandwiches (char broiled meats) come thick and juicy and are served with fresh cut fries, while at Adela’s, tapas — vegetables and cheese delicacies – add veggies to the diet. For pub-crawling, One Eyed Mike’s serves the “Perfect Storm,” a lethal concoction of Gran Marnier, ginger beer and a dash of bitters. Adult versions of what kids love are Mike’s deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served with a White Russian (the milk with the sandwich, naturally).We found other restaurants as well. Italian specialties are served at Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano and Chazz: A Bronx Original. The B & O American Brasserie on North Charles Street adjacent to Hotel Monaco Baltimore serves American food, and the view of the inner harbor coupled with the service and food at Rusty Scupper’s is outstanding.

Still, for haute cuisine, chef/owner/cookbook author and television show host, John Shields has created a menu that’s comparable to top-rated restaurants in the world. Located in the Baltimore Museum of Art, Gertrude’s tables during warm weather are extended outside the restaurant in front of a burbling pool and sculpture garden, where 34 works by artists such as Tony Smith, Noguchi, Calder, Henry Moore, Scott Burton, Jean Miro, Mark Di Suvero and Ellsworth Kelly are predominately displayed. (Almost hidden among trees is Louise Nevelson’s “Seventh Decade Forest,” which seems to peek out at viewers.) Among superbly prepared dishes (including outstanding crab cakes) are sumptuous choices of meat and fish served with local seasonal vegetables and salads.

The inside of the Baltimore Museum of Art is like a who’s who of 19th to 21st Century art. Founded in 1914, the collection has grown from a single painting to 90,000 works, and includes the Claribel and Etta Cone’s extraordinary collection of European modern art as well as the largest compilation in the world of Henri Matisse works. BMA will open its newly renovated contemporary wing in November 2012, showing more than a dozen recent acquisitions and three major collections in anticipation of the museum’s 100th anniversary.

Sitting across from the waterfront while enjoying traditional Lebanese mezza (small plates) at the Lebanese Taverna Cafe at Harbour Center was a perfect afternoon respite from doing the city. Meatballs, lamb and chicken dishes, flat breads, and vegetarian plates are tender and delicious. These jewels aren’t for special occasions. They’re part of what makes exploring all of Baltimore a rare find.

Getting there:
Amtrak is an inexpensive way to visit the Baltimore-Washington area. The seats are comfortable, Wifi is free and there’s a quiet car for those who want to read, work or relax. The Rock & Bus transports concert goers from major cities to Merriweather events.
Denise Mattia

About Denise Mattia

A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.

Related Posts:


Denise Mattia[suffusion-the-author display='description']