East Coast Road Trip: Back to Charm City

We were on the road and heading south by 1pm. We had a long drive to Baltimore and wanted to be there before dinner. We made our way through New Jersey and a quick jaunt through Delaware, making it to the eighth state and the nations capital on our go-cart tour of the East Coast. We stopped briefly as we crossed the state line and let Michele drive in Delware. I think we accomplished our goal of letting her drive the hamster-mobile in every state.

As we pulled back into Maryland it started to rain. We had surprisingly good weather our whole trip with just the down pour on the day we drove to see my mom. That seemed like ages ago. Our trip was coming to an end and we had just a couple more things to do.

We found a hotel on Priceline, the Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys. As we pulled into the parking lot we quickly realized this is where the other half stayed on vacation. It was a beautiful property close to the horse race track. It was surrounded by lush gardens, an upscale boutique mall where everything was in colorful pastels and above our price range. Besides, I have never seen a guy wearing pink pants and a yellow shirt in Alaska anyway. We checked into the room. It was very nice, and headed down to the pool. We decided we weren’t going to swim when we ran into a gaggle of college kids that looked like they belonged to a fraternity and were wooing a sorority that sat across from them at the pool.

We headed downstairs for dinner. The restaurant in the hotel is called Scoozi and I think we were not dressed for this swanky affair. I was wearing a wrinkled Life is Good shirt and plaid shorts and Michele was wearing much the same. Our waiter was a little stuffy but the food was very good. They served us an appetizer plate of meat and cheeses, truffles and honey. I had never had all of those combinations together on a piece of crusty bread. It was divine!

After dinner we bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream from the little store by the front desk and headed back to the room to catch the last period of the Stanley Cup playoff game. Who said you can’t splurge on vacation!

The next morning, our last day of the trip, we ate again at Scoozi. This time outside with a cool breeze and the birds chirping. We both had the cinnamon roll french toast and it was awesome! I am usually not a big breakfast fan but I saw this entree on the menu the night before and had to give it a try.

Our plan today was spending it at the National Aquarium. This spot was on our vacation plans from day 1 after we bought our airline tickets that landed in Baltimore. The National Aquarium is one of the places I visited when I was a kid and I always wanted to go back for a visit.

The tickets were a little expensive but we were early and knew we would be spending a few hours here. The place is divided into four huge exhibits. The first one being the reef. It has a long winding walkway that takes you deeper and deeper into the massive tanks. We got here just in time to watch the divers feeding the fish, with reef sharks circling very near by. These guys have got to have the coolest job in the world. As we were taking pictures one of the divers gestured to us to turn around and take a picture of us with him in the background and in the photo you can see him waving to the camera. Great fun!

We then headed up to the rainforest exhibit. It is located in the large greenhouse type structure that is a landmark of the Aquarium building. Here we met Xeno! She is the sloth in the picture at the top of the post. She came out to greet us and was the highlight of the day. Even the attendants said that she didn’t do that often and they were just as excited to see her up close as we were.

We headed downstairs and across the sky bridge to the dolphin exhibit and pool. We watched a training session in the pool and learned about all the dolphins that lived here. One was the mother to most of the others. They all seemed like they were very well cared for. I know a lot of people say that places like this and zoos are not good for the animals, maybe so, but all of these dolphins looked like they were very happy.

After our dolphin demo we headed across the hall to the jelly fish exhibit. This area was cool. I know Nicole loves jellyfish so we snapped a lot of pictures.

Our tour of the aquarium was done and we still had a couple hours to spare before we needed to be back at the airport to turn in the rental car. We grabbed a sandwich and talked about how cool it would be if Nicole could do her internship here at the aquarium. Nicole is starting college in the fall at the University of Alaska Anchorage and plans to study marine biology. She also wants to be a cave diver! It would be awesome to learn from some of these folks about marine conservation and maybe get the opportunity to dive with the sharks here at the National Aquarium.

The folks at Enterprise told us we should make sure we arrive at the rental car drop off at least three hours before our flight. I was dreading this day since we pulled out of the lot. Remember how I told you that we didn’t have a reservation at Enterprise and we got one of the last cars they had after the Thrifty guy did us wrong. When I agreed to take the car I didn’t bother to look at the fine print and see if we had unlimited mileage. I only hoped and prayed the entire trip that we did.

We pulled up in with the go-cart and jumped out quick and the guy with the little check-in machine did a walk-around. I guess he didn’t notice the huge chip in the windshield that happened somewhere in North Carolina. He scanned the barcode and said, “Mr. Forto that will be $632.00, just use the MasterCard?”

“Um, yes of course!’ I said. “The MasterCard will be just fine!”

Michele and I grabbed our bags, wiped a collective sweat off our brow and gave a long “Whew!” They didn’t ask us why we drove close to two thousand miles. They didn’t ask us why the car stayed in third gear for more than half the trip. They didn’t ask us if we stayed local. They didn’t even ask us if we enjoyed Baltimore!

We rolled our little bags to the shuttle. Jumped on the first one and headed to the airport. When we arrived we had to wait over an hour for the Alaska Airlines ticket counter to open and we met a trio that were headed to Alaska. Of course they asked the same questions that every one asks about moose, log cabins, and 24-hour daylight. We told them the answers we always tell them. Get off the boat, rent a car and see the real Alaska not through some tour guide. I don’t know if they heeded our advice or not but they sure were giddy to get to the Last Frontier. We checked in and had a couple hours to kill. I had watched a show on the plane on the way out about Chipotle. I had never been there and wanted to give it a try. We grabbed a quick snack and to me it tasted just like Qdoba. Nothing fancy but according to them they are trying to change the world by only using organic ingredients. I guess it was worth it as they earned a Jackson from us.

We waited for our flight to Seattle.

A lot of our rabid readers commented on Facebook about Baltimore and to be safe. The riots in Baltimore had just happened a couple weeks before here in Charm City. When we left the National Aquarium we were in a frantic search for gas. You know if you have ever rented a car that if you bring it back empty you might as well mortgage your house to pay for a fill up at the rental car check in.

Our search for petrol took us deep into the city and some would say the bowels of the heart of Baltimore. It looked shady and not some place I would want to stroll for an evening walk, but I did not feel unsafe even in the obvious, look-at-me-neon-flashing-lights of the rental car Toyota Yaris. I didn’t feel like Clark’s family when they made a wrong turn into St. Louis with the Family Truckster. But like any city that has a tourist area–Waikiki in Honolulu, the monuments in D.C., and even the Inner Harbor here in Charm City–if you venture off the safe zone of the camera toting crowd you best be on guard. As I tell Michele anytime we are in a crowd, “Michele, watch my wallet!”

Tomorrow: Sweet Home Alaska


Robert Forto feeding time at the National Aquarium Robert Forto Robert Forto