When I told a friend I was moving to Baltimore, the first thing he said was, "Great neighborhoods."
Then, he wistfully recalled the charms of the city and finished with a sigh. "I envy you."
Baltimore's neighborhoods are legendary, from the grandeur of the homes in Bolton Hill to the feisty maritime spirit of Fells Point.
One of the best ways for out-of-towners to get a feel for a Baltimore neighborhood is by staying in one of the city's bed and breakfasts.
But even if you live within the city limits, an overnight stay at a bed and breakfast makes a great, relatively inexpensive escape from home.
Think of what you'll save in airfare.
There are dozens of bed and breakfasts operating in Baltimore. They range from establishments with up to 11 rooms, to private )) homes with one or two rooms. Some are formal, some comfortably spare.
B&Bs offer a more intimate experience than staying at the local motor inn. You are essentially a visitor in someone's home. If cable television and an ashtray are your idea of essential amenities, a bed and breakfast is probably not for you.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a quiet retreat, unique furnishings and a chance to rediscover a part of the city, Baltimore's bed and breakfasts can be a great in-town getaway. Following are accounts of stays at three B&Bs in Baltimore:
Celie's Waterfront Bed and Breakfast
When Edward Fell bought a parcel of land on the Patapsco River more than 200 years ago, the Quaker shipbuilder set in motion a thriving waterfront community, first home to shipyards, now to dozens of restaurants, taverns and shops.
On cobblestoned Thames Street, Celie's Waterfront Bed and Breakfast is a new inn that was designed to fit into the historic milieu. The buzzer wasn't working when we visited, so Celie Ives herself, a tall, no-nonsense woman in a long down coat and hiking boots, padded briskly to the gate and let us in.
We walked down a narrow brick alleyway past a small garden and entered the inn's main door. A painting of Celie's great-great-great grandmother, a Virginia Quaker, hangs over the fireplace in the sitting room, where we checked in. After giving us her picks for places to eat in the neighborhood (among them: M. Gettier, Piccolo's and Foster's), Celie headed upstairs to our room with a vase of fresh flowers in hand.
It had just snowed when we visited, so we couldn't resist upgrading to one of the harbor rooms with a fireplace. Light streamed in through three long windows, warming the spare but spacious room.
Almost everything about it said "relax." The king-size bed with generous down comforter and flannel sheets. The roomy wicker chair and rocker in front of the fireplace. The enormous bath sheets. The deep whirlpool tub. I said to my husband, "I want to live like this."
We liked the thoughtful details, too. A clock radio next to the bed will play ocean waves to soothe you to sleep if the bar crowd gets too loud (we weren't bothered at all). An alcove holds a mini-refrigerator, small microwave, tiny coffee maker, coffee and tea. In the bathroom, there's a basket of cotton balls, cotton swabs and a disk of glycerin soap; in the closet, thick terry-cloth robes and a television.
We dragged ourselves away from the comforts of our room, first to the roof deck for a look at the water. In the warm months, when the potted flowers are in full bloom, this must be a great place to share a glass of wine at sunset, or breakfast in the morning.
We headed a few doors down to the Daily Grind, a funky urban coffeehouse, for a cafe latte, some classical music and a glimpse of Andre Braugher, a regular on the locally filmed TV show "Homicide." Next, we worked our way up Broadway, popping into antique shops, galleries and bookstores.
A U.S. destroyer was in port in the harbor so we climbed aboard for a quick tour. We had seen its gray hull from the window seat in our room. The young serviceman who was our guide told us that Baltimore was one of his favorite harbors -- mainly because so many bars are a stone's throw from deck.
The next morning, we compared notes with a couple on a weekend getaway from Washington over toast and homemade granola, while Celie brought out fruit compote and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Back in our room, a framed cartoon amused us. A man, sunbathing in a tropical place, is on the phone with a friend.
"Hey, what can I say?" the caption reads. "It's not Baltimore, but ++ then what is?"
Mr. Mole's Bed and Breakfast
I don't know what I like more about Bolton Hill: the height of the ceilings in the grand Victorian homes here, or the neighborhood's proximity to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Lyric Opera House and other sites in Baltimore's cultural district.
To get a taste of how the wealthy merchant class lived more than a century ago, we spent a night at Mr. Mole's Bed and Breakfast, an impeccably decorated, 1870s brick rowhouse run by Paul Bragaw and Collin Clarke.