Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 3: Baltimore and D.C

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco

DAY 8: BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Of all my designated stops, I must confess Baltimore was the one I was most apprehensive about. This says something about the effect of popular culture and people’s instinctive prejudice against certain places; I naively based this trepidation on knowing that The Wire was set there, and after what a few people at the Philadelphia hostel were saying about it. But at the same time I had the upbeat and infectious opening song from Hairspray, Good Morning Baltimore, in my head so I was conflicted about what to think. Perhaps this plays into why I liked Baltimore as much as I did as I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Right next to my hostel was the majestic Washington Monument (not exclusive to D.C.) and the George Peabody Library which is perhaps the most beautiful library I’ve seen, like something out of a 19th century period drama. Maybe the radiant, if at times extremely uncomfortable, 30° weather which had stuck with me from New York and Philadelphia helped paint Baltimore in a favourable light: Inner Harbour looked beautiful in the sunshine. Also on the Inner Harbour for $6 you can go to the top floor of the appropriately named Top of the World Observation Deck which offers an interesting history of the city, great views and very friendly staff.

George Peabody Library © Dan Struthers

I’m sad to say that instead of trying the local cuisine or supporting Baltimore’s independent restaurants, I stumbled across a Nando’s (apparently one of only 30 in North America) and perhaps it was being away from the UK for nearly a year, but I bowed to my craving and gorged myself on Piri Piri chicken. After a brief wander around the historic landmark Fell’s Point, and then another Wonder as I saw DC’s new heroine-centred comic book film (pretty good), I headed back to my hostel. Despite only spending a day in Baltimore I could see why they call it Charm City, a label I initially scoffed at, but understood after my crammed day. In some ways I actually preferred this city to Philadelphia, and maybe even to the next place I visited.

RATE CITY –

Sites: 4/5

Food: 3.5/5

History: 4/5

Accommodation: 3/5

People: 4/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

DAY 9-11: WASHINGTON D.C., DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

First stop on my tour of the Nation’s Capital was, no surprise, the most famous address in America: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, otherwise known as The White House. To reinforce the running formula of big touristy landmarks i.e. disappointment, it’s no surprise that the White House was as unexciting as you can imagine it to be. No sign of the Orange President and you can’t get close to it at all, due to layers of guards and gates.

On the first day I visited the big monuments: the Washington Monument and then the more impressive Lincoln Memorial but without the iconic reflecting pool because, of all the days I happened to visit D.C., I picked the few days they chose to drain it. Being able to hire a $2 bike for 30 minutes was a welcome break from the effects that 8 days of continuous walking in the humid climate had had on my feet and was also a much more efficient way of seeing a fascinating city.

Witnessing the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery (apparently one of the biggest cemeteries in America and home to JFK’s grave) was also very interesting. However, visiting the cemetery left a big, very trivial, question for me to ponder. Seeing as the cemetery was in Virginia and I’d walked over the border from the District of Columbia, could I count Virginia as a state I’d been to? Technically yes, but I hadn’t visited the heart of Virginia and if I counted this then I’d technically been to New Jersey as the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island is New Jersey, but I hadn’t been to New Jersey. One thing is for sure, I am definitely not counting Ohio, Indiana and Iowa as states I’ve visited as I’ve only seen them from the inside of a train, and while travelling through them gives you an extensive view and appreciation of them, it is not the same as exploring them on foot. However, this is a (rather pedantic) debate for another day and one that doesn’t really have an answer.

Aside from the monuments and cemetery I spent the next day and a half in D.C.’s extensive collection of Smithsonian Museums. Five hours wasn’t enough time to fully explore either the Natural History Museum or the American History Museum, and I found myself escorted out at 5pm while engrossed in the history of American Presidents. Likewise halfway through my visit to the Air & Space Museum I had to dash off to catch my gruelling 20-hour train to Chicago. While I was sad to say goodbye to D.C. I also felt that to soak it all in properly, you’d need a week to explore the history, monuments and the countless museums.

RATE CITY –

Sites: 4.5/5

Food: 3.5/5

History: 5/5

Accommodation: 4/5

People: 3.5/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

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