From not Philadelphia to Baltimore, which is a town I knew nothing about, apart from a song in the musical Hairspray I’ve had the misfortune to hear. Turns out it’s a mixed city. Bits of it are lovely, bits are a dive.
Started off cycling through some beautiful farmland to get there. One of the reasons I decided to do both coasts was to avoid the huge swathes of farmland through the middle of the country and instead focus on more interesting bits. So nice that I’m still getting that fresh farm air in small doses.
I was riding through Amish country – didn’t want to take any pictures, but interesting seeing all the big horse carriages and kids on old bikes. It’s against Amish tradition to have gears on your bike, so it’s all single gears, rust covered things. Simpler times.
After a while, I hit the Mason-Dixie line, which is what they call the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. In old times, it was the border between slavery states in the south and free states in the north.
There’s a great gravely cycle path which goes pretty much all the way to Baltimore, which was great to ride on – nice and flat after the unrelenting undulations so far.
And into Baltimore. My airbnb host was a bit of a tool – despite having agreed a time in advance, he wasn’t there and left me waiting in the rain, ringing the doorbell and trying to get in touch with him for the door codes. He sent me around the back to store my bike, saying I’d be able to get in and leave my bike there. The door was locked, and when I rang him he said “Of course it is, I don’t want criminals to get in”. Spas.
After that ordeal, I had some Ethiopian food, which consists of various types of stew eaten on a huge crepe without any cutlery. Took an hour, while I got more and more irate. Also, Ethopian beer is shit. Greasy fingered, went home and tried to forget about stupid Baltimore.
Next day was much better. Got up for a nice crab omelette (Baltimore is famous for crab) at the famous Miss Sallys and then to the National Aquarium, where I got to see lots of different fish, jellyfish, sharks, giant turtles.
From there to Fort McHenry, which is a star fort famous for a battle about which the national anthem is written.
Boring history lesson
The story goes that the British were moving up Chesapeake Bay, ransacking various settlements and, having just razed the Whitehouse in DC, the local captain had his sights set on Baltimore, against the wishes of England.
The townsfolk knew this, so evacuated and built miles of trenches which the invading Brits couldn’t overcome without naval support, so they moved their ships up the bay. Fort McHenry is on a peninsula which sticks out beyond Baltimore, so to shell Baltimore, the Brits would have to destroy the fort first.
So they moved their ships up, but being a bit cavalier, didn’t want to commit ships that might have been destroyed – they kept their ships at 2 miles (their max cannon range), while the Fort McHenry defense cannons could only reach 1.5 miles and bombarded the fort.
It didn’t really work, because at the max range of 2 miles, the cannons and rockets were inaccurate, so there wasn’t much damage done.
Now at the time, there was an American lawyer, Francis Scott Key, who had sailed into the British armada to negotiate the release of some prisoner of war. The Brits detained him while they were in the middle of this siege. Key watched this battle nervously. Some people were killed at the fort and the Brits lost some ships (which they moved closer) and men (who tried to storm the fort on rowboats).
The siege lasted for 25 hours, after which Key allegedly looked out to see which flag was flying at the fort (cause he didn’t know what was happening really). When he saw the American flag, flying by the dawn’s early light, he was inspired to write the anthem.
/Boring history lesson
Anyway, the fort was hot and I was stupidly wearing jeans, so didn’t stay too long.
From Baltimore, to my favourite Washington DC. I’m there once a year with work so was nice to be back in familiar teritory. But crushingly, my favourite sushi place had closed down. It was a silly business model, trying to be Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine at once. The menu was about 20 pages. But they had a fantastic sushi bar with the best crab and jalepeno rolls.
Instead choked down some second rate sushi with tasteless crab and a poor amount of fish in their spicy tuna roll (who puts veg in a spicy tuna roll?). Life is tough.