23 January 2010


Traveling to Baltimore in the dead of winter is not a trip I would ever willingly choose; but my first cousin was getting married. We had essentially been separated at birth from that side of the family and the notion of meeting my lost cousins sealed the deal.

For me, anything below 70F is cold. My closet is filled with lovely, tropical-heat clothing that I can rarely wear in the San Francisco Bay Area. My usual routine would be to come back here for short visits, hit the Salvation Army for cheap sweaters and coats, and then pack the foul weather gear away for the next trip back to the frigid Bay. And even though I have, regretfully, been rather stuck here for the past year and a half, I have yet to own proper arctic wear. And what I do own is fairly bag-lady attire.

I fretted away hours about how I was ever going to survive the East Coast in mid-January without having to spend hundreds of dollars on proper clothing. I ended up buying a few pairs of leggings and arranging what I did have in somewhat acceptable layers. If push came to shove, I would simply refuse to leave the hotel for fear of hypothermia.

My brother and I arrived in Baltimore at 1am. I braced myself as we stepped out of the airport in search of a taxi. I couldn’t believe it; I wasn’t cold! This was weird. I even took off my gloves and unbuttoned my coat. I commented that it was warmer than California. My brother told me I was wrong and that it was in the low 40’s. And that feeling of complete comfort continued for our entire
week long trip.

Granted, we hit perfect weather with sunny days and clear nights for almost the entire week, but I could never get over that fact that even though it was in the mid 30’s at times, it did not hurt. Cold, damp, 50 degree weather in San Francisco hurts. It seeps into your joints and causes undue discomfort. I just can’t ever get warm in SF.

We booked into the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. For someone who rarely travels within the US, and who generally stays in budget hotels in developing countries, it was a new experience. I couldn’t get over all the towels and pillows and free shampoo and conditioner. There were enough channels on the big flat screen to keep you awake all night. The hair dryer was actually in a little bag instead of being bolted to the wall. (Not that I have ever been in a hotel overseas that had a hairdryer). They even had an ironing board and iron. But what they didn’t have was free Wi-Fi. I had to pay $13 a day to access the internet. Even in my modest little hotels in Mexico, Vietnam, etc, there was free internet in most rooms.

The Inner Harbor area and environs, which is all we really saw of Baltimore, was wonderful: pedestrian friendly, clean, and historically fascinating. It dates back to the late 1600’s which, for someone from California, is like being in ancient Rome. Everywhere you walk there are historical markers with copious amounts of information making it a most fascinating history class. Within walking distance is the National Aquarium, historical museums, art museums, and the two places I really wanted to go but didn’t have time: The Babe Ruth Museum and Edgar Allen Poe’s gravesite.

January 19th is Poe’s birthday, which I didn’t know until I heard a news broadcast the following day announcing that the “Poe Toaster” had not made his yearly appearance.
Since 1949, an unknown fan has left a birthday gift of three roses and a bottle of cognac on his original gravesite. (I’m assuming that means his body is no longer there.) This year, nothing was left. Even more odd to me is that no one knows who this person is/was, even though there seem to be people who wait to see “the shadowy figure” every year. Had he been buried in CA, no doubt the paparazzi would have de-cloaked the secretive individual years ago.

We fell into Fells Point Historical area without knowing it; cobblestone streets and cute little restaurants, shops and bars. It has been renovated but has kept all its old-time charm. Someone told us there was a pub on every corner and after an unscientific survey, it seems they were correct. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of all the beautiful brick buildings and basement stair entrances that front all the buildings.

The reason we were there, The Wedding, turned out to be the best part. It was held at PAZO, this way-cool, massive restaurant, just up the street from the Inner Harbor. In its original incarnation, it was a ship repair warehouse. The cavernous building is tall enough to house some very lofty ships. (how they got them inside is something I didn’t find out.) They have kept the openness and height, placing seating areas of tables and couches around the edges, and on a mezzanine.

The ceremony was upstairs overlooking the restaurant, followed by cocktails downstairs in the lounge area, and then on to dinner in an upstairs, private room. Now I am not one to get over-excited about food. It’s one of those things that is least important in the big picture. However, I must say that this was one spectacular dining experience. We were served eight different mini-courses, family-style. Platters of each dish were brought to the tables and then passed around. Sea scallops in butternut squash puree; wood grilled lamb chops in red wine pomegranate molasses; whole wheat bread with rosemary and sea salt, to name a few. Each dish was completely different and delicious. Amazingly, I never felt stuffed which is what usually happens after a big meal. I just felt gastronomically elated.

When we walked outside to go back to the hotel, I again noted that the weather was lovely and that I certainly could live in this kind of cold provided it never snowed or got below freezing. Which, of course, is not the reality. Tomorrow we would head off to Virginia and hope that the good weather and good travel would continue.