A Maryland of Opportunity

That’s the punchy current state slogan.  The former was “Seize The Day Off” – so maybe the Maryland tourism board could use a little help, but you get the idea.  This month, I’m encouraging you to explore Maryland.  If you live within driving distance, you’ll be surprised at what an amazing and inexpensive adventure you can have in your own backyard.

You’ll learn about the role of Baltimore in the war between the North and the South, get up close and personal with some scary sea life or explore nature in the protected beach areas where wild horses roam free.

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Kiss, kiss

Besides being the setting for The Wire, Baltimore is perhaps most famous for its waterfront.  The star of the Inner Harbor is without a doubt the Aquarium.  And this summer a new reef exhibit opens.  There’s plenty to see even without the expansion– poisonous spiders, creatures in an Australian outback, dolphins swimming and an array of jellyfish.

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Fortunately this couldn’t sting me.

But the real attention grabbers are the sharks baring their teeth as they swim by you.

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More frightening than Jaws

Tickets are for timed entry, so get yours in advance if you can or be prepared to wait or return the next day.  If you have to wait, you can pass the time at the nearby free Civil War Museum.  A lot of reading but extremely informative.  I’m continually amazed at how little I know (or retained) about American history.  And be on the lookout for the Charm City Circular, the FREE shuttle that will transport you from Inner Harbor to the restaurants and bars in Fells Point.

Stay at Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel, if you can.  The rooms are spacious and well-decorated.  Service is outstanding.  Look for a special deal on Expedia if it’s not in your budget.  And sign up for their free rewards program for complimentary internet access.  Plus their evening wine happy hour is included with all rooms.

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Of course, no trip to Maryland would be complete without the famous crabs.  And Faidley’s in the Lexington Market has the best crab cakes around.  Seriously.  Don’t bother with anything but the lump version.  Worth every penny.

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It’s all about the crab.

There’s a bunch of places in the market selling fresh, local oysters and lots of other food options.  Note: This is only a lunch spot, and it’s standing room only.

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The signs speak volumes.

Of course, you may want to try a pile of Maryland Blue Crab — the hardshells or softshells depending on the season, and by all means, you should.  I’d recommend asking around for a place the locals prefer.

For more upscale but still casual dining, there’s a number of slightly obnoxious chain restaurants from which you could choose around the Inner Harbor.   But if you want a memorable experience, head to Salt – a little off the beaten path a bit north of Fells Point.  Most of the portions are large (except for the fava ravioli and sweetbreads I ordered).

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Sweetbreads

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Crisp skin on the tilefish.  The spicy broth was a nice surprise.

But the preparation and presentation of everything is solid and well worth a visit.  Uncharacteristically, I even managed to have dessert – how could anyone resist goat cheese donuts and coffee ice cream!  Sublime.

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Cheese in a donut– such a perfect combo!

If you’re not up for heading away from the more touristy areas, grab some oysters at the Thames Street Oyster House — one of the largest selections anywhere.  The menu is more New England than Southern themed, a nice departure from the standard seafood fare.  And if you’ve had enough fish, you won’t be disappointed if you opt for the burger instead.  Cocktails are inventive, tasty and reasonable (at least by NYC standards).

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Horses grazing on the beach.

Aside from Baltimore, the quaint town of Annapolis and the surrounding areas are popular water destinations with much to do.  I’m sure you can find plenty of info if you want to check out that area.  But for an alternative, head a little farther out of the way to the Assateague Island National Seashore, a lovely island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia.  This is where the wild horses seek fresh water in the dunes and deer are not afraid of people.

Only one two-lane road exists, and that doesn’t even traverse the length of the island.  There are no hotels or restaurants.  Its pristine beaches are marred only by RVs and off-road vehicles.  You can take a day trip and stay at a nearby hotel or camp overnight.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic setting that reminds you of what the coastal areas used to be like.  On July 24, the horses make their annual swim across the channel to Chincoteague Island (the Virginia part).  You won’t even feel like you’re in the US until some obnoxious person tries to pet the horses…

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