This past weekend, my car miraculously got me down to Burlington, VT, where I hopped a flight to DC. Final destination was a wedding in Baltimore.
Reunited 10 years after we’d first met for our undergrad in Baltimore, many of my friends remarked on how stupid we were to stay in our little campus bubble and not spend more time exploring the city.
Baltimore is not one big crack den, as per the common mischaracterization. Sure, there are bad streets, dangerous corners, even sketchy bus routes. Once, on a city bus back from the mall with our American Eagle and Abercrombie bags, an older, rougher-looking Baltimore dweller warned my friends and I to “never take the number 8.” She didn’t elaborate, but her tone conveyed everything. I never took the number 8.
I am ambivalent about the process of gentrification. It is exciting to see an area go from scary, scarcely inhabited and dirty, to trendy, shiny and thriving. You just hope that this happens without losing the original character of the place. We don’t want every city to feel like a Disney version of itself, right? But so often that’s what happens–just a few groovy upstart hot spots before Starbucks and Panera get wind of the next must-franchise location… not that I have anything against Panera or Starbucks, but I’d rather discover unique spots such as Marie Louise Bistro–which makes a mean Eggs Benedict and looks like the restaurant in Love Actually where Colin Firth’s character professes his love in broken Portuguese–”Bonita Aurelia…”
Baltimore is a city that runs in zones. Good zones, bad zones, with very abrupt transitions. It seems that the gentrification is largely the expansion of some of the “good zones.” This weekend, I experienced “Harbor East.” Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was gradually saved from post-industrial dilapidation over the course of the latter 20th century. The laying of new cobblestone, erecting of romantic bridges and emergence of new restaurants has slowly crept further east along the waterfront so that what was still dingy in my college years is now fairly unrecognizable.
It’s beautiful (and not at all scary to stroll through, even at night). And thankfully, in spite of Barnes and Noble, Whole Foods and yes, Hooters, it still feels like Baltimore–regal Federalist architecture, the rather ugly World Trade Center looming over the harbor where the dragon boats bob up and down, and unexpected landmasses, like Federal Hill, jutting into the harbor’s water at odd angles. In between the freshly filled cracks, you can still find the gems that make Baltimore one of America’s most underrated cities.
And of course: the crabs. Crab cakes, crab soup, crab dip, crab on my Eggs Benedict at Marie Louise. My first crab-eating experience was one of the more memorable freshman week events: the Crab Feast. The native Marylanders approached with eager appetites and a sense of pride. “We’ll show you how it’s done–don’t worry” they said to the rest of us, who were overwhelmed by the spiny, uninviting and seemingly impenetrable crab shells, steamed to a screaming red. After much cracking, tearing, digging and pulling for a paltry amount of meat, I realized that just the discovery of Old Bay was well-worth the mess and loss of dignity. After all, getting messy over food is a great equalizer and fantastic way to build camaraderie among relative strangers. It certainly worked for my group of friends.
So with that, I highly recommend you visit Baltimore if you never have, or if you haven’t been in a while–and thanks to my friends Erin and Kieran for getting married there so I could revisit this great city!
By the way, all of the incredible wedding photos are courtesy of Erin and Kieran’s photographer, Emily Chastain. Check out her site, especially if you have an upcoming event in the Annapolis/Baltimore/DC area!