“I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you’ll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It’s as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.”
– John Waters
Last week I flew to Baltimore, Maryland to visit a friend. What I expected was to spend 4 days having a good catch-up and escape from the humidity and frizzy hair of Florida…
What I didn’t expect was to fall head over heels in love with Baltimore.
I first heard about Baltimore after reading John Waters’ book Role Models; a memoir written in the form of intimate profiles, one of those being about Baltimore itself.
Confession: I had never even heard of John Waters or Baltimore before picking this book up, nor had I ever seen any of his films (Hairspray and Pink Flamingoes being his most famous). I guess I just thought the book sounded interesting, and I was not wrong. And an ode to how much I loved it was that Baltimore and John Waters always stuck with me.
Skip forward 5 years and my best childhood friend is now living in this very city
With us being so close (in comparison with Europe to America) I had to pop and see her, and of course see whether Baltimore really lived up to the weird and wonderful way Waters portrayed it.
I flew with Spirit airlines, which I was really impressed with in comparison with the budget airlines in the UK and their crippling amount of leg room. Spirit was spacey in comparison (thank you national obesity). My flights cost around $80 round trip, not including a suitcase, so me and my backpack were pretty pleased with the price and 2.5 hour flight duration.
It was all going to be a zip…
Except for when you live in the Florida Keys NOTHING is just a quick journey. The 4 hour drive up to Fort Lauderdale airport made my should be short journey L-O-N-G. Although I was lucky to get a ride with our friends who had been visiting, so we headed up in their RV with their adorable dog Bella lovingly slobbering over me in the back seat.
After getting up at 6:30am that morning, I finally landed at Baltimore airport at 11:05pm. With no bag to collect I was through in minutes, leaving me breathing-in the cooler Maryland air and calling an Uber for the first time since leaving London. At this point I was excited about using Uber as I was being somewhere new…
My First Run-In With A Baltimorean…
My Uber was just a few minutes away. All was going smoothly. But as I watched the little Uber screen fondly, reminiscing over my days of living in busy London, I noticed the car circling, disappearing, and then circling again. I called the driver.
It was my lucky day: it was Mary’s FIRST EVER TRIP. I was the test run. Lucky me. And, she was lost.
“Stay there.” I said calmly. “I will come and find you.” After pacing around both levels of the airport I finally approached Mary’s car in a secluded spot of the airport, beyond all pick up and drop off zones (Breathe. Patience). As I stepped off the curb to my dismay she began to drive away.
“STOP!” I yelled, waving my arms. She didn’t stop. I re-dialled. She laughed. I laughed. This was comical. A long while later Mary returned, and finally, after over an hour we were on our way.
Have you seen the Chewbacca lady’s video that has gone viral recently? That is Mary (without the Star Wars obsession). After sweet little Mary’s overview of Baltimore on the way to my friends I was already under the impression that this wasn’t going to be any normal weekend.
Baltimore: First Impressions
Baltimore’s charm comes in the form of the strange, the weird and the wonderful.
There is a beauty in the undone, rather than the new and shiny; kind of like everything from the past 5 decades has been clung on to, allowing a decaying mish-mash to reign over the city. Walking around, vintage shops and art galleries are huddled next to dingy fast food restaurants and offices with elaborate window displays – many left over from Christmas.
Like many other big cities, it is divided into districts. They are each significantly different from one another, with Downtown housing the more gritty side of Baltimore, and North Baltimore home to Johns Hopkins University and the cool + quirky Hampden neighbourhood, which is where I stayed.
Hampden embodies all of Baltimore’s unique charm
…With flamingoes in abundance, trendy cocktail bars, eclectic boutiques and crab restaurants. The difference between these traits of vintage-cool here with every other cities ‘cool’ area is that Baltimore’s is real: There is no pretentiousness. Even the bearded coffee server was genuine and chatty.
My First Morning
Led me to being accosted by the overly-friendly owner of a vintage shop. I wanted to browse the treasure trove; she, on hearing my accent, wanted to discuss Midsummer Murders and Downton Abbey at great lengths. I didn’t have chance to buy anything in the end because we chatted for so long and I had to meet my friend for lunch.
The shops in Hampden are great; from a vintage basement, to a crammed book store, to a wonderful boutique selling worldly treasures; it really is a little slice of shopping heaven.
Johns Hopkins University Campus
Just a short walk from Hampden, the campus of Johns Hopkins university was a serene, leafy green escape from the city. Nestled in the centre is the the Baltimore Museum of Art and sculpture garden. We ate at the museums great outdoor restaurant, and I spent the afternoon browsing the impressive collections, ranging from European art to Renaissance paintings, to modern art.
I loved the sculpture garden, a little sunken garden providing a quiet moment away from the world.
Hampden took quirky to a whole new level when Saturday arrived and the locals turned out in force for the annual ‘HONfest’, celebrating the local honeys and their wonderful Amy Winehouse-style up-do’s. More food, more drink, more funky looking folk.
The women were out in their full HON attire, including bee-hives, retro dresses, feather bowers and vintage bejewelled sunglasses. All of the shops had stalls out on the street, and as the sun beat down people danced to the live music, watched the judging of the HON competitions, and drank until nightfall.
Being A Tourist
I loved wandering around the harbour, and walking up Federal Hill to admire the view of the city below. The harbour is a really artsy area, dotted with art gallery, then bar, then art gallery, and so on. In the daytime it is the perfect place to pick up some local art; in the evening it becomes the place to go for live music and drinks.
We ate crab pretzels in Fed hill, took a water taxi back across, and walked around the city; from the empty baseball stadium to the city Monument and Walters Art Gallery in Mount Vernon. The Monument offered even more elevation over the city, and gave me more of a grip as to what was where. And after climbing the 200+ steps and then being back below on ground, we wandered over the road so that I could see the one thing I had on my itinerary…
The Peabody Library
A not to be missed, 19th century library belonging to Johns Hopkins University. It is a stunning open library with six balconies of books, and topped with a beautiful skylight. This is one of the most beautiful and famous libraries in the world.
Over the course of the 4 days we ate and drank A LOT. Baltimore is famous for being a foodie capital, and from Crab pretzels to Mexican fusion, we ate it all! Look out for my luxury backpacking guide, coming soon, for my top brunch spots and oyster bars!
If you are looking for an USA city break with a difference I thoroughly recommend Baltimore. Just 2.5 hours by train to NEW YORK and 1 hour to Washington DC, it is perfectly located so that you can hit up 3 cities in one go. But saying that, once you are submerged in the weird and truly world of Baltimore, you might never want to leave.
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