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Experiences in Baltimore, MD

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The Aquarium

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So on my fourth visit to Baltimore I finally visit the somewhat renowned National Aquarium. It’s not like there’s a ton of competition for sights in Baltimore, but one always hears that the aquarium is one of the best while being somewhat overpriced ($30). I suppose that the latter, along with a sense of ‘I can always do that’, is why I didn’t go until my roommate Greg offered some ‘Tomorrow only” free tickets. And I’m glad he did.

Where sharks go to relax

Being free and spur-of-the-moment I hadn’t raised my expectations very high, which probably saved me from disappointment once again. It’s a pretty good aquarium, with a decent number of tanks, good layout and nice environments in the tanks. They have an impressive number of big fish (sharks, rays, carangidae), and the themed sections for different regions were nicely done. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the textual displays, but I did learn that red fish are often nocturnal since red is hard to pick out in dim light.

Attempts to turn fish into princes are on hold until a more satisfactory princess can be found

They had a couple of pseudo-outdoors terrestrial exhibits that incorporated birds and amphibians, including a nice one on Australia. A surprising finale was their Jellyfish Invasion exhibit: a simple affair, with perhaps a half-score minimalistic tanks full of cnidarians, that was nevertheless both informative and nicely ambient. This inspired Pete to consider an aquarium with jellies instead of fish and neon illumination, an idea that will most certainly be investigated further. It also inspired me to go diving in a dead zone, though this was most likely just the culmination of the whole place making me crave some scuba action. I’ll have to see what can be done about that in the near future…

That’s a real bird. For serious.

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Written by Martin

2012/08/31 at 20:44

Posted in Places

Road Trip days 22-28: Los Angeles, part IV

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I realize that I left something out of my previous post, something that bears mentioning despite the low-quality iPhone pic that serves as the sole source of photographic evidence. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’d shuffled around our eating days to make the most of LA’s offerings, which meant that when we got back from Sequoia we had literally not eaten for two days. And what better way to break this fast than a visit to the Griddle Cafe for a dinner-plate-sized stack of buttermilk pancakes filled with brown sugar-baked bananas, walnuts, caramel and streusel, topped with yet more caramel, streusel and whipped cream. And yes, I put maple syrup on that. It was obscene, but utterly delectable; the combination worked perfectly, and the gigantism meant that each bite was a different combination of ingredients. My friend had a ‘light’ version with just the bananas, which wasn’t half bad either. The lack of extras may be why he got about two-thirds through the stack while I stopped at the halfway mark, but more likely he was just more stubborn (his agonizing over stomach pains lasted at least three hours after the meal). Either way we both did better than the native at the table next to us, who ate an eighth of his stack and then asked for a box for the rest. I kid you not.

The Golden Ticket

Our days on the West coast were coming to an end, and I find it hard to describe my feelings about it. Relief, melancholy, jaded indifference. We’d been on the road for so long, and then subjected to the laid-back LA atmosphere, that it was hard to relate to the concept of going back to work. So I mustered all my newfound Pacific Vegan Silver Screen superpowers and went with the flow; “bugger this relating to imminent events, let’s just enjoy the city.”

Chinatown

I’m not sure why, but the idea of a cathedral for some undefined matron protector really appeals to me. I guess in part because it reminds me of a great book I read a few years back, but the mysticism and symbolism also just clicks. The place ended up being far more modern than I’d expected, but in light of the city’s young age that’s probably a good thing.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The last thing my camera saw on our trip was a view from the wonderful (and free) Getty center in the hills above Los Angeles. Not entirely inappropriate, in my opinion. Goodnight, Hollywood boulevard.

Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard

Written by Martin

2011/02/10 at 05:27

Posted in Food, Places, Road Trip

Road Trip days 16-17: Texas

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Texas. The second largest of the United States (Alaska), second most populous state (California) with the second highest GDP (California). I’ll resist the urge to make a joke about it being a second-rate state and instead offer the standard proverb: Everything is bigger in Texas. Everything, except for my itinerary: we had 600 miles to cover on the I-10, and the only things on my todo-list were to see an oil pump and to try some Texas barbecue. I don’t think I’m giving much away by telling you right away that we did accomplish both, although it wasn’t until we hit West Texas that we saw these:

Oil pump, check.

Since we didn’t have a ton to do in Texas, and knowing that the National Parks would be packed tight once we got further West, we tried to make good time through the Lone Star State. The first day took us as far as Luling, at which point we could go no further that day. You see, my research had revealed that some of the best barbecue in Texas could apparently be had in this town of roughly 5000. And because we arrived there on a fasting day, we had to hang around until we could sample the delights. Which sounds like a ridiculous self-imposed limitation, except that we didn’t get there until 9ish and the place was closed anyway. So off we went to the nearest campground, and then back to Luling at nine the next morning for a yummy brisket-and-ribs breakfast:

And the winner is...

I would offer a nice description of the Luling City Market barbecue restaurant, except that someone else has already done a swell job on just that here. So instead I’ll just say that walking through the cafeteria style dining room, into the smoke room with its darkened walls and spartan menu (ribs, brisket and sausage, each with a price per pound) was just the right kind of atmosphere for a BBQ joint. And when they piled those smoky red ribs on sheets of butcher paper, and asked how many pickles and slices of Wonderbread I wanted, some primordial pitmaster gene told me that we’d come to just the right place. Sure enough, with just the right amount of their delicious sauce this was perhaps the tastiest, juicest barbecue I’ve ever had (I’ll give my dad another chance to claim that title, haven’t had his ribs in a long time now). I still have a thing for the beef ribs at Jim Neely’s, but if we’re comparing apples to apples then Luling takes the prize.

Luling City Market

That might have been the end of Texas (aside from another 350 miles on the interstate), but of course we weren’t doing everything according to plan, and therefore decided to make a stop in San Antonio. Why? I couldn’t tell you, honestly. At some point we realized that the Alamo was there, but I don’t think that was until we were already going.  Certainly it turned out to be a far better idea than when we decided to check out Baton Rouge and failed to find anything interesting. Although it seemed a nice enough place overall, there were two main highlights in San Antonio. The first of these was the Riverwalk, basically a canal running through town, lowered from ground level and stuffed with vegetation, cafes and restaurants. Quite an efficient transformation, basically taking you to another world by a single flight of stairs. I’m sure it’s touristy and overpriced, but I still condone it.

San Antonio Riverwalk

The other highlight was of course the Alamo. I’m not sure that many people outside of the United States, or even outside of Texas, know more about it than the Texian battle-cry, ‘Remember the Alamo!’. I know I didn’t. In short, it’s a Catholic mission turned makeshift fortress in a 13-day siege during the Texan War of Independence from Mexico. A couple of hundred Texians (that’s what Texans were called back then) stood up to a couple of thousand Mexican troops, and were promptly all killed. There was any number of exhibits and videos emphasizing the bravery of the defenders and the significance of the battle, but I must admit that they failed to instill in me any particular reverence for the fallen soldiers. It probably was a pivotal battle for uniting the revolutionaries, but other than that it doesn’t seem so different from any number of other sieges. Still, I was greatly educated about the whole Texan Revolution, which goes a long way to explain the special relationship between Texas and the United States as a whole.

Forget the Alamo

Written by Martin

2010/12/21 at 15:09

Posted in Places

Westside

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This weekend my dad came to visit, since he had business in New York. Friday night was a standard evening full of good times: First, dinner at Bertha’s Mussels (Eat Bertha’s Mussels!). They have fantastic mussels with a variety of sauces, and probably the best crabcakes I’ve tried. Then on to Birds of a Feather, a lovely local scotch whiskey bar. Come closing time proceed to Carducci’s, a new bar just down the street from us, featuring 1$ Natty Bohs (hm, you don’t know what Natty Bohs are. Stay tuned for future blog post). Made lots of new friends, including the bartender Chris who claims to make the best Long Islands in town, and to be a great kisser… naturally, as the evening progresses we invite our new friends back to the rooftop deck for more drinks, singalong blues guitar and other escapades.

All of this is really just a prelude for the point of the post, which is imminent. On Saturday, we had a nice brunch down by the harbor, and checked out some of the quirky stores in Fell’s Point. But after all these nice things, I felt obligated to show some of the less appealing but far more common parts of Baltimore. So we took a ride to the West side, with doors locked. Here’s some of what we saw:

You don't really want to stop the car to take pictures

Not what it used to be

Once you get out to what I imagine used to be nice suburban neighborhoods, you see some really great buildings, fallen completely into disrepair. It’s pretty odd. And of course there’s little incentive for any investors to improve the area, so the decline continue. You see lots of rubble where a building has collapsed and nobody has bothered to reconstruct, and countless boarded up houses.

Nobody home...

There area 637,455 people in Baltimore City, and 239 homicides per year.  That’s six times as many murders per capita as New York City, or three times more than LA. 0.0375% of the population murdered yearly; at first it sounds like a really small number, and compared to say Mexico, it probably is. But when you think about it, that’s roughly one in 3000 people living in the city, murdered. Every year. So live there for 30 years, and you have a 1% chance of getting shot.

Well, obviously not, because the crime isn’t spread evenly. But it’s something to keep in mind; while the areas of Bmore I frequent are honestly fantastic, most of the city is pretty much a slum. Don’t go west, young man, and grow up with the country!

Written by Martin

2010/03/23 at 19:26

Posted in Places, Uncategorized

District of Columbia

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I had to take the train down to Washington yesterday to pick up a notarized translation of my driver’s license from the Danish embassy. It’s only a one-hour train ride from Baltimore, but it sure feels different.

Getting off the subway at Dupont Circle, my first experience was a 15-20 minute walk through the sprawling embassy area. (Well, that’s not quite true. The FIRST experience was noticing how the subway looks exactly like in Fallout 3). For the duration of the walk, I never had less than ten embassies in sight, in all shapes and sizes. It stands to reason; nearly every country in the world would be represented, unless they’d cut diplomatic ties with thet US. The Danish embassy was furthest out, kind of in the woods. It was very 70ies in terms of architecture and decoration, but nice people. Talked a while to the women who had my license, about this and that.

With the embassy business taken care of, I took a little tour of DC. I only had a couple of hours and expect to return, so I stuck with the more obvious sights:

I more or less toured the National Mall, catching the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument, Ulysses S Grant Memorial, the Smithsonian castle, Supreme Court and the various national museums and galleries (though I only went in to the botanical gardens and the National Archives). Several blocks before I got to the Mall, I could already see the Washington Monument rising up above the buildings, and out in the open it’s absolutely massive. I’d imagined something like an Egyptian obelisk, but this was orders of magnitude bigger:

Yes, those little black dots are people

In fact, the whole Mall was vast, much larger than I’d expected in the middle of a city. Although I suspect the impression of size is partly due to clever architecture and layout, it definitely felt larger than anything I saw in China. And in the end, even the eastern half I saw is twice the length of the Forbidden City. There’s enough history there to keep an interested visitor occupied for a week, and impress anybody else.

The best thing is that all the museums and most of the memorials are free to visit. I’m already looking forward to a whole weekend of poring over things at the National Museum of Natural History, or the Air and Space Museum. As it is, the Archives had a really cool room holding the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, along with other documents and explanatory text. You really got a sense of how significant the birth of the American Union was for the entire world, whatever the state of the nation today.

Written by Martin

2010/03/03 at 23:30

Posted in Places, Uncategorized