The Accidental Tourist Roams Old Baltimore

April 28, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

After the applause for the Brahms symphony had died down, I walked through the auditorium and out the Peabody lobby's exit doors. Mount Vernon Place is as fine a setting as you will find in any city. I blinked and observed the 19th-century architecture; I could have been in Belgravia or Bloomsbury. And yet, you turn your head sharply southeast, and there's Mr. Boh in neon in the distance.

On that night last week, some Charles Village neighbors offered me a lift home; as we searched out their car and walked along Read and St. Paul streets, I thought: "Is there much difference between here and the Upper East Side of New York City?" Well, yes, New York has a jaunty affluence that Baltimore does not, but the basic physical stuff is very much the same, and both cities were being built up about the same time.

This year, I've been playing a kind of game. I close my eyes and take a trip without leaving Baltimore. Agreed, there is no cure like travel. And while my bags are always packed and my passport is current, this year I just couldn't seem to buy a ticket. So I am playing the accidental tourist within walking distance of Charles Street, a $1.60 MTA bus tab, an under-$10 cab fare or whenever someone else agrees to drive.

Last Saturday, my father and I were out for a ride along Falls Road in Baltimore County's Butler. We managed to find ourselves behind a Model A Ford, also out for the sunshine. As we dipped along the rises and falls of Maryland terrain, I thought of the South Downs in England's Hampshire or maybe the west of Ireland. Maryland spring lacks nothing in comparison. The only trick is to avoid York or Reisterstown roads, where you might think you're in Las Vegas, which I'll leave for someone else to visit.

One day a couple of springs ago, I enjoyed a streetcar ride through the 1900 Art Nouveau sections of Munich. Just this week, I was out with an old friend for lunch, and we took a shortcut through the big-ticket section of Roland Park, where Ridgewood Road curls around the side of the Jones Falls Valley. The sights in Roland Park are more Teddy Roosevelt than Kaiser Wilhelm, but I was struck by the similarities; all that was missing was Munich's superior beer. And I was back to work within an hour.

My friends tell me I'm crazy for walking around Baltimore at night, often alone. People are terrified of the city in the dark. But I chance short bolts through the light and shadows of old Baltimore all the time, and I like it. I was going along Reservoir Street the other night, taking in the cut stone facades, the front steps, the looks inside to the Victorian parlors. I've done the same in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris after dark.

If Baltimore comes up short, it's in the nightlife department. Restaurants here mostly act as if 10 p.m. is 3 a.m. And yet, after an evening performance at Everyman Theater, there was plenty doing on Charles Street, and before long a pitcher of sangria appeared before me. Now how did that happen?

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