I spent two days in Baltimore but since I was working in the morning and late at night, I only had the afternoons off to look around, which made it the equivalent of one day. Good enough!
I stayed at the HI Baltimore Hostel, which was across the Baltimore Basilica, so after checking in and getting work done, that was my first stop.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the first Cathedral in America. Built from 1806-1821, the Basilica was designed by John Carroll, the country’s first bishop and later Archbishop of Baltimore, and father of American architecture Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
There are guided tours every day, though pamphlets are also available for those who want to wander around on their own. Aside from the Basilica and its surrounding garden, the underground crypts, where bishops are buried, are open to the public as well.
The Latrobe House
Across the Basilica is the John H.B. Latrobe House which, according to baltimoreheritage.org, is “the only surviving site associated with the “Saturday Morning Visiter” writing contest that launched Edgar Allan Poe’s literary career.”
Bascially, the contest organizers read Poe’s “Ms. Found in a Bottle” and declared the then unknown author the winner. He received the grand prize of US$30, and after befriending one of the organisers, his literary career was born.
If you’re wondering why Benjamin Henry and John H.B. share the same last name, it’s because they are father and son respectively.
The Latrobe House is now a private residence, with a plaque outside stating its historical value.
Poe’s presence is strong in Baltimore. He’s buried there, too, and I hope to visit his grave one day.
Dinner was at Maisy’s, just around the corner from where I was located. It’s a homegrown restaurant that consistently has a place in Baltimore’s Top 10 Restaurants lists, and I can see why.
I had the Maryland Crab Soup (because when in Maryland, you must eat crab) and the Seared Tuna on Mashed Potatoes (because I had already had crab cakes earlier).
I love how soup is always served with crackers in the US, and how their main starch is mashed potatoes. I grew up on rice, but my heart has always been with mashed potatoes (sorry, ancestors).
After lunch the next day I walked to the Baltimore Aquarium (now called the National Aquarium–Baltimore, after it merged with the National Aquarium in Washington in 2003), about 45 mins away. I was in the area the night before, looking for boots as mine finally gave out (the superglue didn’t work). I finally bought a cheap winter pair at the CVS, but not before being accosted by a lady who asked for change, saying she had no money and had to be somewhere. As I was on a budget, I had no money to give her. Good thing, because I saw her on the way to the Aquarium, different outfit, same MO. She didn’t recognize me.
The Baltimore Aquarium opened in 1981 and houses over 750 species—about 17,000 specimens worth. The biggest exhibit is Blacktip Reef—viewable from different parts of the building. The exhibit replicates an Indo-Pacific reef and contains about 70 species, including blacktop reef sharks and a rescued green sea turtle named Calypso who arrived the year the aquarium opened.
The Aquarium’s exhibits range from species found in Maryland’s waters to creatures in the Amazon. Not all exhibits feature water breathers—there are insects, reptiles, amphibians, and birds.
A keeper had some Madagascar hissing cockroaches out, so I got to touch a couple of their carapaces. They did not stink, and they did not hiss (they only iss when they’re stressed). There were also a couple of tanks that allowed you to touch their inhabitants, such as horseshoe crabs and jellyfish.
It’s always wonderful to see an organization that is sincere in its desire to conserve flora and fauna, and importantly, takes extra steps to make sure that they do so property.
What amazed me as much as the aqua and landlife available on show was how the aquarium was built with maximum guest experience in mind, without sacrificing the needs of the animals. Little things such as fish designs on the floor added a bit of whimsy to the building while retaining its authority. I left feeling envious, wishing we had something like this at home.
I would love to come back and spend more time exploring the city. I love what little of it I’ve seen.