East Coast City of Charm.

Costa Rica

They call it Charm City. Baltimore is a friendly old port on a tangle of Chesapeake Bay coastline midway between Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Gareth visited one of the most improved places in the USA, now setting out its stall as a short break destination, It offers a busy list of attractions, including some famous marble steps, top-ranked crab cakes and museums honouring Superman and local baseball legend Babe Ruth. Picture - Baltimore Harbour, Gareth Huw Davies.

Stretch limo service

What time shall we send your stretch limo ? No, we hadn’t been mistaken for
A-list celebrities. That’s how Kali’s Court, a waterside fish restaurant in
Thames St usually convey their customers. Our server Robert, with the
casually attentive style of a good butler, trusted us to read the menu.
(Many American waitresses don’t put you to such trouble, and instead
reel off every last item from memory). Besides, we needed to know what was
in their excellent bouillabaisse: lobster, gulf shrimp, green-lip mussels, calamari
and seasonal fish in a saffron-tomato broth. We also rated their Albino
Anchovy Salad - fennel, organic mizuna greens, toasted almonds and truffle
vinaigrette. And of course the Colossal Crab Cakes with steamed asparagus.
After grilled swordsfish and Chocolate Chunk Creme Brulee, the limo awaited.
We needed it. (£71 for two with wine.) 001 410 276 4700

Go to the pitchers.

Americans are taking a big interest in our national game of soccer,
so it’s only right that we should reciprocate by attending a baseball game.
After all, it’s only a form of cricket without the grass. Very appropriate, too,
considering that the Baltimore Orioles’48,000 stadium, close to the city
centre, is on the very spot where baseball legend Babe Ruth’s dad ran a shop.
Baseball is totally family friendly, with no dress code, as you’d expect from a
game played by men in striped pajamas. Nobody minds if you look totally
baffled, as long as you are clutching a bottle of the local supporters’beer of
choice, Natty Boh (National Bohemian). And even if you can’t tell the pitcher’s
curve ball from his knuckleball, just make sure you applaud the Orioles’home
runs. Seats start at £7.60

See the steps.

Just as Dublin boasts about the famous wide doors of its Georgian houses,
so Baltimore’s big brag is the marble steps to its old homes. The best - standard town terraced houses dating from the 1790s, not big mansions – are around the Harbour and in Fells Point, The builders of these city centre rowhouses looked at the beautiful white marble used in Washington DC’s ceremonial buildings and decided they would use it too, as the quarry was so close to the city. So marvel at the marble in the Washington Monument and the columns of the Capitol building, but come here next. Just as people still polish their steps in parts of the UK, there is a proud cleaning routine here, too. The city also
swanks over its blue crabs. Chesapeake Bay was always the East Coast’s main source of this prized crustacean. Crab cake is on the menu all over.

Homage to the comic

Winnie Winkle and Little Orphan Annie share top billing with Captain Midnight
and Wonder Woman in the newest thing in town. Geppi’s Entertainment
Museum opened last year (2006) to celebrate America’s pantheon of comic,
cartoon and fantasy characters, from Howdy Doody to Mickey Mouse,
Superman to the Simpsons. Local tycoon and part Baltimore Oriels owner
Steve Geppi has put his enormous personal collection of memorabilia on show,
promising something here to light you up. High walls display huge movie
posters, above a dizzying mix of comic books since the late 1800s, board
games and items connected with the iconic characters. Action Comics No. 1
(1938), the first appearance of Superman, is too precious to touch, but you
can read it on a computer monitor. In Bart Simpson’s words: Ay, caramba!: £5.70.

Museum mania.

Baltimore passes the plenty of things to do test. First there is the Sultan of
Swat, the Colossus of Clout. By any reckoning baseball player George
Herman Babe Ruth, is one of the world’s top 10 sportsmen. He was born
and learned his game in Baltimore, before joining the Boston Red Sox. Rooms in the Emory Street rowhouse, where Ruth lived, have been restored to look as they did when he was a boy. This is also the home town of Billie Holiday, one of the greatest of American jazz singers. Her statue is at the corner of
Lafayette and Pennsylvania Avenues. They recently opened a mockup of an entire Australian valley in the Aquarium. While over at the Museum of Art (free), on display is the outstanding collection of paintings by Matisse, Picasso, van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Renoir, collected by the Cone sisters.

A trip around the harbour.

The USS Constellation is one of the finer legacies from desperate
times. This 1854, triple-masted sloop-permanently moored in the Inner
Harbour, and open to visitors, is the last Civil War-era vessel afloat. Her duties
included disrupting the African slave trade. This was the second busiest port
of reception for America’s immigrants. With such an extensive and rambling
water’s edge, the floating view makes sense. Aboard Ed Kane’s
Water Taxi we took in all Baltimore from the point of view of the British who
failed to take this nest of Pirates in 1812. To mark the successful defence, a
local patriot wrote the Star Spangled Banner, words to the US national
anthem. The Baltimore Harbor Pass (£24) includes the water taxi, Aquarium . Science Center, and Top of the World Observation Level, high in the World Trade Center.

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