Three hours. One hundred and eighty minutes. One thousand and eighty seconds. No matter how you look at it, it is not a lot of time to explore a new city. So if you love visiting new locations to play tourist and learn all you can, you have to utilize your time effectively. In a brief one hundred and eighty minutes during this weekend, I managed to tour a major auto show, explore a historic warship, walk through the depths of a submarine, and stand on the top of the world.
I was in Baltimore, Maryland attending a conference for my job. The conference was located at a hotel in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, a historic seaport in a city that has been a major seafaring location since the 17th century. Despite its extensive involvement in seagoing trade early in the history of Maryland, the harbor fell on hard times as the 20th century approached. As ships got larger and heavier, the relatively shallow harbor of Baltimore could not accommodate the bigger vessels of modern shipping, and the harbor went into decline. In response, beginning in the 1950s, the city began to develop the inner harbor, transforming it into a center of tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, and shops. I had toured the Inner Harbor as as small child, and was excited to be visiting again. Still, the conference would have me busy. I knew that it would simply
not be possible to play tourist.
As I planned my time at the conference, I figured I would spend my few breaks catching up with work emails and chatting with colleagues. After all, I didn’t have my camera with me. My Honda was still back in New Jersey, as my job had transported me to Baltimore with one of the company vehicles. There was
no way I was going to be able to write a post. However, I spotted a sign outside of my hotel that said: “Motor Trend International Auto Show – Baltimore Convention Center.” And so my latest adventure began.
Before diving into my latest travelogue, however, I wanted to provide a few updates:
Last month I had challenged my readers to caption this photo, and several of you responded! Among my favorites: “Uh, excuse me. Do I have any food in my beard?” “I’ve missed seeing you! Who’s the new chickie?” “Eh… what’s up doc?” and “Kiss me you fool!” Good times all around!
And in my last post, I mentioned the recent passing of Irv Gordon. I thought I would share one more video of Irv, from when his 1966 Volvo broke the three million mile mark while on a road trip in Alaska. Rest in peace, Irv:
And now, let’s visit Baltimore…
Despite being a little more than two hours from Philadelphia, I have only visited Baltimore a handful of times.
The sign that got me to leave my hotel and explore the Inner Harbor.
The Motor Trend International Auto Show was held on the lower level of the Baltimore Convention Center. For $12, I was able to spend some quality time exploring the latest vehicles from the auto industry.
My first stop (of course!) was Honda’s display area. The centerpiece is the brand new Honda Passport, a midsize SUV. The original Passport from the 1990s was a rebadged Isuzu Trooper, built at a time when Honda was desperate to enter the quickly expanding SUV market. The new 2019 Passport is a far superior vehicle in every way possible to its 1990s ancestor.
I spent a solid ten minutes exploring the Passport inside and out, and I came away deeply impressed with the vehicle. Based on the venerable Honda Pilot SUV, the Passport appears to be a highly capable on-and-off road vehicle. I admit to sitting in the driver’s seat and daydreaming about barreling down a snow-covered road during a blizzard in a Passport (equipped with Nokian tires, of course!).
Conversely, spending several minutes with the new Honda Accord reinforced my thinking that I’m not terribly excited about it. Both in terms of style and comfort, I prefer the design of the previous model. As someone who has owned five Accords in my life, the current 10th generation is the first that has failed to capture my interest.
A car that I do like quite a lot is the new Honda Insight hybrid. Based on the Civic, the Insight gets an impressive 49 city/55 highway miles per gallon. If I ever had to replace my Accord, the Insight would be on the short list of vehicles I would want to test drive.
The centerpiece of Subaru’s showcase was the new 3-row Ascent, targeting buyers looking for the space of a minivan with the bad weather capabilities of an SUV.
One of the more… unique… vehicles on display: the Polaris Slingshot. This three-wheeled car features an open cockpit and is billed as “A ride as close to the road as you can get.” No. Thank. You.
The luxury car section spanned from Buick, with its flagship SUV, the Enclave…
…to a host of luxury sedans and supercars. While I liked the Hondas I saw, I wouldn’t turn down this McLaren 600LT Spider, if anyone wants to gift me one… (hint, hint). It starts at an affordable $240,000.
There was also a large section of custom and classic cars. This Mazda RX-7 was in mint condition.
My father and I went to many drag races when I was a kid, helping to instill in me a love of cars. This Chevrolet Vega looked like many of the cars I watched roar down the quarter mile tracks when I was a child.
Despite being produced in my childhood, I’ve never seen a drag race conversion for the Chrysler Conquest (the Conquest was actually a Mitsubishi that Chrysler imported from Japan and sold as their own from 1983 until 1989). This one looked wicked.
Before leaving, I stopped by the Acura section. I’ve always had an appreciation for Honda’s luxury brand. However, after its heyday of “precision engineering” in the 1990s, Acura seemingly lost its way a bit, producing less performance-focused vehicles through much of the late 2000s. Fortunately, over the past few years there has been a strong effort at Acura to return to its roots with offerings such as this TLX A-Spec.
The performance enhancements even extend to Acura’s entry-level car, the ILX. Given that it is classified as a compact car, I was surprised at how roomy and comfortable the interior felt.
After leaving the auto show, I pressed on to visit the rest of the Inner Harbor.
My next stop was the Pratt Street Power Plant. Built in 1900 and originally using coal-fired boilers to provide electricity for the city, the plant closed in 1973 and has been converted into a shopping and dining center.
The most unusual Barnes and Noble I have ever visited – the store incorporates the power plant’s original boilers and steel framework.
Corridors in the store have been carved through the remains of the boilers… pretty cool, eh?
My next stop was to visit the last sail-only warship in the US Navy: the , a ship that served for almost one hundred years before being retired to life as a floating museum. In the background is the Baltimore World Trade Center (more on that later!). USS Constellation
After paying your entry fee, you pass through a small museum on the way to the ship. The two pieces of furniture against the wall are the ship’s surgeon’s desk (left) and the linseed oil container (right). Linseed oil was vital for keeping the ship waterproof and in good condition while at sea.
All aboard! Built in 1854, the Constellation was made from oak. It served in the Navy from 1855 until 1955.
I have always been fascinated by the rigging of sailing ship. I see a seemingly endless collection of ropes, but a sailor aboard the Constellation would have looked the same scene and known the job of each and every line.
Ever wonder where we get the term “the head” as a way of mentioning the bathroom? In the days before plumbing aboard ships, sailors would relieve themselves at the front (head) of the ship. A small platform (through the gap you see in the railing) is where the crew did their business while the ship was at sea. Think of that the next time someone tells you they need to “hit the head.”
After touring the top deck, I headed down to the gun deck, where many of the ship’s 25 cannons were housed. This ship was definitely not designed for tall people – I had to crouch down so as not to hit my head on the beams above me.
On the gun deck is also the galley – the cooking area for the ship. This table displayed some of the typical items served aboard the Constellation in the 19th century. Breakfast was usually a piece of salted beef and a pint of coffee. Lunch was the main meal of the day, with meat, vegetables, hardtack (long-lasting crackers), and coffee. Dinner was typically lighter fare served during the evening shift.
I had to ask one of the museum guides about this contraption – it is the bilge pump. It was used to pump out excess water from the bilge at the bottom of the ship. In an emergency, it was also used to pump water to fight fires. Four sailors, two on each side, would work in a seesaw action to operate the pump.
The captain’s mess table, where he would dine with his officers, in the captain’s suite. Also here are his quarters, his office, and his private bathroom (which was fully enclosed, unlike the “head” at the front of the ship).
The captain’s quarters. Small, but palatial compared to the quarters where the crew slept.
Officers also had private quarters, although a bit smaller than the captain’s. This is the chaplain’s room – I hope he never sat up too quickly in bed!
The quarters for the rest of the crew – hammocks suspended from the ceiling above. I can’t imagine sailors got a restful sleep in a hammock on a ship being tossed about by the ocean.
The ship’s sickbay houses an exhibit on 19th century military surgery. A museum guide explained what medical care was like aboard the ship during the Civil War. My takeaway? If you lived back then, try not to get sick or injured, ever. Grim.
The ship’s hold, where the supplies necessary for a long sea voyage were kept. Unlike most museum ships, which restricts your access to a few decks, the Constellation allows you to explore almost the entire vessel.
My next stop was the WWII-era submarine , which is permanently moored in front of the National Aquarium. Serving in the US Navy from 1944 until 1971, the USS Torsk Torsk has the distinction of being the last US vessel to sink an enemy warship in WWII, a Japanese frigate.
The tour begins in the torpedo room. Old submarines have always fascinated me for their sheer complexity.
The starboard control station in the Maneuvering Room. This room controlled the boat’s propulsion – the large levers were used to manage the speed of the propellers.
Unlike the engine of a typical car that has the crankshaft at the bottom of the engine, the submarine’s diesel engine has the crankshaft at the top, with the pistons beneath it. Each of the Torsk’s 4 engines produces 1600 horsepower.
Despite space being at a premium, the crew’s quarters are a dramatic improvement over the hammocks of the Constellation.
When space is at a premium, you maximize any room you can find. A sailor’s storage locker was located in the bunk bed, beneath the mattress.
The sub’s galley. My great-grandfather, who wanted to leave his home of Croatia to come to America, earned his passage to New York by working in the galley of a ship when he was 13. Since hearing my mom and grandmom tell me the stories of his travels, I’ve always been fascinated with how meals are prepared aboard ships, especially small vessels such as this submarine. This tiny kitchen would feed 81 officers and crew members three meals a day during voyages that could last months at a time.
The officer’s wardroom. While the crew ate at cafeteria tables in the mess, the officers took their meals in relative luxury.
While the lower deck was inaccessible, gratings gave you glimpses into the cramped spaces below. This tiny machinist shop was responsible for repairing parts while the ship was at sea.
“DIVE! DIVE! DIVE!” This is the diving station, responsible for submerging the vessel. The Torsk could safely dive to 400 feet below the surface… although to borrow a line from the movie U-571, “she’ll go all the way to the bottom if we let her.”
Leaving the Torsk, I spotted my final destination of my brief tour – the Baltimore World Trade Center.
A small memorial to the New York World Trade Center sits in front of the entrance. The steel girders are from the 94th to 96th floors of the north tower.
For $6, I decided to splurge and visit the Top of the World Observation Level on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center.
As the floor of the elevator reminds you, the Baltimore World Trade Center is the tallest pentagonal-shaped structure in the world.
The view from the top was spectacular, and well worth the admission price. This image is facing east – the aquarium and the Torsk are at the bottom of the photo.
And facing west, you can see the USS Constellation at its mooring.
The north windows have the names of all of the victims of 9/11 inscribed on them. The Observation Level dedicates a significant portion of its space to honor the victims of America’s worst terrorist attack.
The memorial for 9/11 is both simple and effective. There are three display cases that house debris from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93.
This section of wall beside the north windows displays the photographs of the victims of 9/11 who were from Maryland. I thought the exhibits were tasteful and respectful of the victims. As someone who works with high school students who were born after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I appreciate the efforts that the Baltimore World Trade Center has undertaken to create both a memorial and an educational tool.
Departing the Inner Harbor, I walked passed one of Baltimore’s landmarks, the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower. Completed in 1911, the clock tower is the only surviving section of the Bromo-Seltzer factory, a drug company that specialized in antacids in the early 20th century.
With a design inspired by a palace in Florence, Italy, the Bromo-Seltzer clock tower has stood above Baltimore for over 100 years. The clock itself cost $3965 when it was built, which would be almost $108,000 in 2019. Instead of numbers, the clock face says BROMO SELTZER.
Before I left town, I stopped for dinner at Maiwand Grill, a restaurant serving traditional food from Afghanistan. I ordered the beef and chicken kabob – it was simply terrific.
After four days at the conference, it felt good to get back into my Accord when I arrived home. Despite all the shiny new cars I saw at the auto show, each time I get back into my car, it’s like putting on an old baseball glove that’s been broken in – it just feels comfortable and familiar.
After three hours touring the Inner Harbor, I realized that I was only able to scratch the surface of the sites in Baltimore. Even in the small section of the Inner Harbor, I did not make it to sites such as the National Aquarium, the Civil War Museum, and Fort McHenry. Still, given the limited time I had available, I was pleased with the number of sites I was able to visit. The Baltimore Auto Show is typically held in early February, and adults pay $12 per ticket (children 12 and under can enter for free). The
USS Constellation and USS Torsk can be visited year round (two other historic ships in the harbor are closed during the winter months), and are open from 10:00 am until 4:30 pm. It costs $15 for adults to visit the two ships, $13 for senior citizens and students, $7 for youth ages 6-14, and children under 5 can enter for free. Finally, the Top of the World Observation Level at the World Trade Center costs $6 for adults, $5 for seniors or active duty military, $4 for children ages 3-12, and children under the age of 3 can enter for free. The Inner Harbor area makes for a great vacation destination! Despite its gritty portrayal in many movies and TV series (including my favorite TV show, The Wire), the Baltimore I encountered this weekend earned its nickname: Charm City.
Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.