This weekend I was in Baltimore for work and it was glorious to get away after being cooped up for the past few months. We have done this show for our work (jewelry & metal sculpture) at least a dozen times, and each time I get to know this lovely city a little better.
It is an understatement to say that I love to travel, even if it is only to explore a bit of the country a few miles from my house. If you take the time to look at the buildings, the people, the shops, the food, you can piece together the kind of life that inhabits a place and what makes it distinctive from every other place.
To plan on only trudging to the giant convention center where the show was held and sit in my booth amidst the hundreds of other exhibitors was not my idea of taking advantage of this travel opportunity. I made sure to fill in all my time around the show with as much sight-seeing as possible.
When I am away from home, suddenly all the things that my days are filled with, being a mother, cooking, cleaning, working, writing all disappear and I am left with big gaps of time that can be used however I see fit. Baltimore is the perfect place to be stranded with time on your hands.
There was a danger of getting overwhelmed so I concentrated on just a few manageable things: good food and a walking tour of the city streets, and a visit to the beautiful Inner Harbor (more on the harbor below). The food highlight was eating at the well-established Afghan restaurant on Charles street in the Mount Vernon district of the city, called The Helmand.
I had eaten there before and made sure to make a reservation for the following day the moment I arrived. I knew it was a busy place and did not want to miss out on sharing this food moment with my friend Bird who had come from Manhattan for her first visit to Baltimore ever! The place was packed to the gills when we got there and even though I had a reservation we had to wait about 20 minutes for our table. This was fine because our profusely apologizing host got us a seat at the bar right in front of the open oven where the best bread in the world was being made!
When we sat at our table we were treated to a round of drinks as a further apology for the delay in seating us. So The Helmand is not only named after the largest province in Afghanistan, but also apparently after the first-born son of the owners. The food at The Helmand is a complete celebration of the food culture of that country and it is safe to say that the people from this part of the world are in love with food.
Every piece of meat or vegetable was infused with delicate spices and herbs or simmered to perfection in aromatic stews or marinades. There were delicate pastas filled with lamb, beef, leeks or onions, served with bright yellow split pea sauce on a bed of garlicky yogurt sauce or pungent mint sauce, plates of fried eggplant with tomatoes or stewed with garlic sauce, homemade pastry shells filled with ground beef or lamb served with basmati rice with cumin seeds (Challow) or cinnamon rice (Pallow).
Needless to say most of the conversation revolved around the various plates and bowls of food piled on our neat white table. The dessert was another sensory pleasure not easily forgotten with a cardamom pastry that made me run to the supermarket when I got home for a bag of cardamom seeds and a soft cheese curd called Kishmish Panir which was soaked in a thin pomegranate sauce and dotted with raisins.
You read all sorts of reviews about restaurants and seeing as The Helmand is open over twenty years the general consensus is that it is a highly respected establishment with good food. My experience was nothing short of amazing and this was due not only to the excellent food but also in large part to the attitude of the entire staff who appeared to work together from the bus boy to the manager in one powerful unit, hell-bent on customer satisfaction.
We were led out by the manager Assad who thanked us warmly for our patronage and hurried our return when we next visited his fair city.
The city of Baltimore was founded in 1729 and is best viewed at walking pace to be fully appreciated. The streets are wide and lined with important architectural buildings that span two centuries from Benjamin Latrobe to modernist Mies van der Rohe. The large Pillar of the Washington Monument dominates Charles street and that is one structure amid countless beautiful churches, museums, government buildings and grandiose statues dotted throughout this city. I look forward to writing a detailed account in another post because for now I want to take you on a visual tour of the beautiful Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore.
The Inner Harbor in Baltimore
The way in which I see many new places unencumbered by bags, coats and a camera is by running. It is something I do just about everyday and how I get to know the places around me in a more intimate way than say driving around in a car. If you run in any direction from a given spot for several miles, you can discover all sorts of interesting things.
Each morning this past weekend I went on a running exploration.The first day I ran away from the harbor into the city, and the next I ran around the harbor. After I had seen all I could, I choose certain spots to revisit with my camera (yes, wearing a big coat and lugging a bag as well as the camera!).
The Inner Harbor of Baltimore is home to one of the largest collections of military vessels and artifacts in the world and the entire harbor has been re-designed with this unique floating history at its center.
This could have been a tacky affair with cheap carnival-style attractions, but the Inner Harbor of Baltimore is absolutely beautifully designed with no garish signage, blinking lights or cheap looking buildings. It used the beauty already there to create a place that would take a person 3 days of intense site-seeing to visit everything on offer.
Beginning in the 1950’s the city of Baltimore turned the dilapidated harbor into a major place of recreation attracting tourists from all over the world. It constructed beautiful parks and renovated the harbor’s buildings infusing the downtown location with renewed life where the community could gather.
It highlighted the historical places like Fort McHenry (where a battle there in 1814 inspired the writing of the Star Spangled Banner) and its military history with modern facilities such as the Science Center, the Visionary Museum and a world-class aquarium.
Even if you don’t have time to visit all of these fabulous places, the walk around the harbor is breathtaking, with all sorts of treats for the eye like the ships, boats, museum buildings and park that surround and hug the water.
It was a blustery and cold Sunday morning when I meandered around the harbor but that didn’t stop the joggers, the museum goes, bird feeders and maritime enthusiasts from throwing on a hat and coat to enjoy the sights and sounds that the Inner Harbor offers up on a daily basis.
My weekend in Baltimore was a time to see all of my old exhibitor friends I only get the chance to see at shows, and a time to re-appreciate what is great about this city.
My friend Bird was really fun to be with because she brought a fresh point of view. She was amazed by the overall friendly nature of the people and how this differed from the harried vibe that can sometimes exude from the streets of New York City.
My trip to Baltimore was of course way too short to do all of the things on my list, so I am already looking at my calendar for another window of opportunity to go back.